rascott.com                                                                                 news, views and an occasional blog

Welcome to rascott.com
This is a personal site that reflects my interests in news,
current affairs, aviation and travel.

email me: robert@rascott.com


Now In Dubai:
Scott Consulting

Photo Albums
My photographs have been moved off this site and are now stored on Picasa. They were simply taking up too much space on my web host.
Please use
this link to see my list of photo albums.

Some Useful links:
World Time Clock
Exchange Rates


Project Syndicate
Amnesty International
Reporters w/o borders

The Guardian
BBC World News
CNN Asia
Bangkok Post

Daylife.com - news

Gulf News
Arabian Business
World News
WSJ - Asia
Good causes:

Sister Joan - Bangkok

Regional Info:

BKK Magazine
HK Magazine
In Singapore Magazine
TimeOut Dubai
Back in the UK:
Newton Ferrers

And for fun:
Lin Ping live panda tv


BBC Archive

National Media Museum
The British Library
Imperial War Museum

There are many other links on my AOB blog page.


Emirates update

30 June 2012

The latest changes to Emirates’ Winter 2012/13 operation as follows:

Dubai – Beirut eff 28OCT12 Service increases from 14 to 18 weekly
Dubai – Dammam eff 28OCT12 Service increases from 7 to 10 weekly
Dubai – Dar es Salaam eff 01FEB13 2-class 777-300ER replaces A340-500, no First Class service (Previously to start from 01MAR13)
Dubai – Hong Kong 28OCT12 – 31JAN13 2nd Daily service, EK382/383, operates with A340-300 instead of 777-300ER
Dubai – Larnaca – Malta 01OCT12 – 31JAN13 Airbus A340-300 replaces A330-200; eff 01FEB13 Boeing 777-200 replaces A340-300
Dubai – Riyadh eff 28OCT12 Service increases from 17 to 21 weekly
Dubai – Rome eff 01OCT12 Planned introduction of 3rd daily service, EK099/100, is cancelled

Previously reported changes:

Dubai – Cape Town eff 01DEC12 2nd Daily EK772/773 service resumes (suspended from 01SEP12 to 30NOV12)
Dubai – Colombo – Singapore eff 01DEC12 2-class Boeing 777-300ER replaces 3-class 777-300
Dubai – Copenhagen eff 01OCT12 Boeing 777-300ER with Suites replaces -200
Dubai – Frankfurt eff 01OCT12 EK043/044 Boeing 777-300ER with Suites replaces A330-200
Dubai – Glasgow eff 01JAN13 EK025/026 Boeing 777-300ER with First Class Suite replaces Airbus A340-300
Dubai – Ho Chi Minh eff 28OCT12 2-class Boeing 777-300ER replaces A330-200
Dubai – Hyderabad eff 01MAR13 EK526/527 operates with A340-500, replaces -300
Dubai – Istanbul eff 01JAN13 EK123/124 2-class Boeing 777-300ER replaces -200, 4 weekly
Dubai – Johannesburg eff 01DEC12 Airbus A380 service resumes on EK761/762
Dubai – Lisbon eff 01FEB13 Boeing 777-300ER replaces -200ER
Dubai – London Gatwick eff 28OCT12 EK011/012 3-class Boeing 777-300ER with First Class replaces -200ER
Dubai – London Heathrow eff 01FEB13 EK029/030 operates with A380, replaces 777-300ER (Overall A380 operates 4 of 5 daily LHR flights)
Dubai – Lusaka – Harare eff 01OCT12 Service increases from 5 weekly to daily, A330-200 operating
Dubai – Melbourne – Auckland eff 01OCT12 Airbus A380 operates Daily, replacing Boeing 777-300ER
Dubai – Moscow Domodeodovo eff 01MAR13 EK133/134 Boeing 777-300ER replaces A340-500 (Overall 2 daily 777-300ER)
Dubai – New York JFK eff 01JAN13 2 Daily A380 service, replaces 1 daily each of A380 and 777-300ER
Dubai – Nice eff 01SEP12 Airbus A340-500 replaces -300. This previously to start from 28OCT12
Dubai – Paris CDG eff 28OCT12 Increases from 18 to 19 weekly
Dubai – St. Petersburg eff 01DEC12 Daily Airbus A340-500 operation, replacing 6 weekly A340-300 and 1 weekly -500
Dubai – Tunis eff 01DEC12 3-class Boeing 777-300ER replaces A340-500. Loss of First Class Suite service
Dubai – Venice Airbus A340-500 gradually replacing A340-300
eff 31DEC12 EK135/136 A340-500 replaces -300 on Day 246
eff 02JAN13 EK137/138 A340-500 replaces -300 on Day 357
eff 04MAR13 Airbus A340-500 replaces -300 on all 2 daily flights

source: airlineroute

Notes from the UK

30 June 2012

It rains a lot! The wettest June on record.

I liked Irton Hall in the west side of the Lake District - a bit cut off from the rest of the region, but that is part of the attraction.

Whitehaven is an interesting old harbour town with an unfortunate history from its involvement with the slave trade. Now the harbour has a flourishing marina and the town prospers from its proximity to Sellafield.

If you are in the town head to The Waterfront pub and restaurant to eat. Nice people; good food. www.waterfrontwhitehaven.co.uk

As for the Lake District. Always enjoyable. Except for ridiculous parking costs everywhere you go.

Similarly cut off is Oban on the Scottish west coast. A small town in just 8,500 people; the town has over one million people a year passing through it. Some are day-trippers; some are passing through on their way to the islands. But one million people creates a great opportunity for tourism; from tour boats to restaurants. Overlooking the town is McCraig's folly; built for an Oban industrialist.

The town is a base for Caledonian MacBrayne whose Isle of Mull ferry makes five or six return trips a day to the island of Mull; the bus from the ferry terminal into Tobermory is more expensive than the day return for a ferry passenger.

In Oban we stayed at The Old Manse bed and breakfast; run with friendly efficiency by Simon and Anne Smith. Nice people. And just five minutes walk down the hill into the town centre. And when it is not raining Oban is a pleasant place to visit and explore the west Scottish coast. But it does rain - too much - and that makes some of the roads treacherous. And teh A82 past Loch Lomond is a shocker.

Now here is something that the UK could fix. Employ people not machines to sell tickets. Parking in Ambleside - farcical. A 20 minute queue to get a parking ticket. Catching a train into Edinburgh. No ticket office at Edinburgh Park station. Just a machine. And it does not even take cash. It only issues tickets on a credit card. Bizarre.

Television - Olympic advertisements everywhere. There really is an official cereal bar of the 2012 Olympics.

One strange conversation at the Waterfront in Whitehaven; where the manager had come back from working overseas to look after his mother. He said that he likes the UK again. And he said this with surprise. But I know what he means. Maybe it is just that it is nice to come back here and explore. And of course it helps that it is June and there is light at 10pm and even in the rain it is mild.

And don't get me started on caravans - which should only be on the roads between 2am and 5am daily.

The Queen's Edinburgh home - Holyrood House is exactly opposite the new Scottish Parliament - which may just be the ugliest building in Scotland.....

China's leadership riches

29 June 2012 - Bloomberg - This article led to Bloomberg's website being blocked today in China.

Xi Jinping, the man in line to be China’s next president, warned officials on a 2004 anti-graft conference call: “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.”

As Xi climbed the Communist Party ranks, his extended family expanded their business interests to include minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment, according to public documents compiled by Bloomberg.

Those interests include investments in companies with total assets of $376 million; an 18 percent indirect stake in a rare-earths company with $1.73 billion in assets; and a $20.2 million holding in a publicly traded technology company. The figures don’t account for liabilities and thus don’t reflect the family’s net worth.

No assets were traced to Xi, who turns 59 this month; his wife Peng Liyuan, 49, a famous People’s Liberation Army singer; or their daughter, the documents show. There is no indication Xi intervened to advance his relatives’ business transactions, or of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family.

While the investments are obscured from public view by multiple holding companies, government restrictions on access to company documents and in some cases online censorship, they are identified in thousands of pages of regulatory filings.

The trail also leads to a hillside villa overlooking the South China Sea in Hong Kong, with an estimated value of $31.5 million. The doorbell ringer dangles from its wires, and neighbors say the house has been empty for years. The family owns at least six other Hong Kong properties with a combined estimated value of $24.1 million.

Xi has risen through the party over the past three decades, holding leadership positions in several provinces and joining the ruling Politburo Standing Committee in 2007. Along the way, he built a reputation for clean government.

He led an anti-graft campaign in the rich coastal province of Zhejiang, where he issued the “rein in” warning to officials in 2004, according to a People’s Daily publication. In Shanghai, he was brought in as party chief after a 3.7 billion- yuan ($582 million) scandal.

A 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing cited an acquaintance of Xi’s saying he wasn’t corrupt or driven by money. Xi was “repulsed by the all-encompassing commercialization of Chinese society, with its attendant nouveau riche, official corruption, loss of values, dignity, and self- respect,” the cable disclosed by Wikileaks said, citing the friend. Wikileaks publishes secret government documents online.

A U.S. government spokesman declined to comment on the document.

Increasing resentment over China’s most powerful families carving up the spoils of economic growth poses a challenge for the Communist Party. The income gap in urban China has widened more than in any other country in Asia over the past 20 years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“The average Chinese person gets angry when he hears about deals where people make hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars, by trading on political influence,” said Barry Naughton, professor of Chinese economy at the University of California, San Diego, who wasn’t referring to the Xi family specifically.

Scrutiny of officials’ wealth is intensifying before a once-in-a-decade transition of power later this year, when Xi and the next generation of leaders are set to be promoted. The ouster in March of Bo Xilai as party chief of China’s biggest municipality in an alleged graft and murder scandal fueled public anger over cronyism and corruption. It also spurred demands that top officials disclose their wealth in editorials in two Chinese financial publications and from microbloggers. Bo’s family accumulated at least $136 million in assets, Bloomberg News reported in April.

Xi and his siblings are the children of the late Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary fighter who helped Mao Zedong win control of China in 1949 with a pledge to end centuries of inequality and abuse of power for personal gain. That makes them “princelings,” scions of top officials and party figures whose lineages can help them wield influence in politics and business.

Most of the extended Xi family’s assets traced by Bloomberg were owned by Xi’s older sister,Qi Qiaoqiao, 63; her husband Deng Jiagui, 61; and Qi’s daughter Zhang Yannan, 33, according to public records compiled by Bloomberg.

Deng held an indirect 18 percent stake as recently as June 8 in Jiangxi Rare Earth & Rare Metals Tungsten Group Corp. Prices of the minerals used in wind turbines and U.S. smart bombs have surged as China tightened supply.

Qi and Deng’s share of the assets of Shenzhen Yuanwei Investment Co., a real-estate and diversified holding company, totaled 1.83 billion yuan ($288 million), a December 2011 filing shows. Other companies in the Yuanwei group wholly owned by the couple have combined assets of at least 539.3 million yuan ($84.8 million).

A 3.17 million-yuan investment by Zhang in Beijing-based Hiconics Drive Technology Co. (300048) has increased 40-fold since 2009 to 128.4 million yuan ($20.2 million) as of yesterday’s close in Shenzhen.

Deng, reached on his mobile phone, said he was retired. When asked about his wife, Zhang and their businesses across the country, he said: “It’s not convenient for me to talk to you about this too much.” Attempts to reach Qi and Zhang directly or through their companies by phone and fax, as well as visits to addresses found on filings, were unsuccessful.

Another brother-in-law of Xi Jinping, Wu Long, ran a telecommunications company named New Postcom Equipment Co. The company was owned as of May 28 by relatives three times removed from Wu -- the family of his younger brother’s wife, according to public documents and an interview with one of the company’s registered owners.

New Postcom won hundreds of millions of yuan in contracts from state-owned China Mobile Communications Corp., the world’s biggest phone company by number of users, according to analysts at BDA China Ltd., a Beijing-based consulting firm that advises technology companies.

Dozens of people contacted over the past two months wouldn’t comment about the Xi family on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue. Details from Web pages profiling one of Xi Jinping’s nieces and her British husband were deleted after the two people were contacted.

The total assets of companies owned by the Xi family gives the breadth of their businesses and isn’t an indication of profitability. Hong Kong property values were based on recent transactions involving comparable homes.

Bloomberg’s accounting included only assets, property and shareholdings in which there was documentation of ownership by a family member and an amount could be clearly assigned. Assets were traced using public and business records, interviews with acquaintances and Hong Kong and Chinese identity-card numbers.

In cases where family members use different names in mainland China and in Hong Kong, Bloomberg verified identities by speaking to people who had met them and through multiple company documents that show the same names together and shared addresses.

Bloomberg provided a list showing the Xi family’s holdings to China’s Foreign Ministry. The government declined to comment.

In October 2000, Xi Zhongxun’s family gathered on his 87th birthday for a photograph at a state guest house in Shenzhen, two years before the patriarch’s death. The southern metropolis bordering Hong Kong is now one of China’s richest, thanks in part to the elder Xi. He persuaded former leader Deng Xiaoping to pioneer China’s experiment with open markets in what was a fishing village.

In the photo, Xi Zhongxun, dressed in a red sweater and holding a cane, is seated in an overstuffed armchair. To his left sits daughter Qi Qiaoqiao. On his right, a young grandson perches on doily-covered armrests next to the elder Xi’s wife, Qi Xin. Lined up behind are Qiaoqiao’s husband, Deng Jiagui; her brothers Xi Yuanping and presidential heir Xi Jinping; and sister Qi An’an alongside her husband Wu Long.

Xi Zhongxun worked to imbue his children with the revolutionary spirit, according to accounts in state media that portray him as a principled and moral leader. Family members have recounted in interviews how he dressed them in patched hand-me-downs.

He also made Qiaoqiao turn down her top-choice middle school in Beijing, which offered her a slot despite her falling half a point short of the required grade, according to a memorial book about him. Instead, she attended another school under her mother’s family name, Qi, so classmates wouldn’t know her background. Qiaoqiao and her sister An’an also sometimes use their father’s family name, Xi.

In a speech on March 1 this year before about 2,200 cadres at the central party school in Beijing where members are trained, Xi Jinping said that some were joining because they believed it was a ticket to wealth. “It is more difficult, yet more vital than ever to keep the party pure,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech in an official magazine.

His daughter, Xi Mingze, has avoided the spotlight. She studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under an assumed name.

Xi’s elevation to replace Hu Jintao as China’s top leader isn’t yet formalized. He must be picked as the Communist Party’s general secretary in a meeting later this year and then be selected by the country’s legislature as president next March.

Disgruntlement over how members of the ruling elite translate political power into personal fortunes has existed since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms began three decades ago, when he said some people could get rich first and help others get wealthy later.

The relatives of other top officials have forged business careers. Premier Wen Jiabao’s son co-founded a private-equity company. The son of Wen’s predecessor, Zhu Rongji, heads a Chinese investment bank.

“What I’m really concerned about is the alliance between the rich and powerful,” said Wan Guanghua, principal economist at the Asian Development Bank. “It makes corruption and inequality self-reinforcing and persistent.”

Public criticism is mounting against ostentatious displays of wealth by officials. Microbloggers tracking designer labels sported by cadres expressed disgust last year at a gold Rolex watch worn by a former customs minister. They castigated the daughter of former Premier Li Peng for wearing a pink Emilio Pucci suit to the nation’s annual legislative meeting this March. Some complained that the 12,000 yuan they said it cost would pay for warm clothes for 200 poor children.

“People are angry because there’s unequal access to money- making, and the rewards that get reaped appear to the populace to be undeserved,” said Perry Link, a China scholar at the University of California, Riverside. “There’s no question in the Chinese public mind that this is wrong.”

Premier Wen told a meeting of China’s State Council on March 26 that power must be exercised “under the sun” to combat corruption.

While officials in China must report their income and assets to authorities, as well as personal information about their immediate family, the disclosures aren’t public.

The lack of transparency fuels a belief that the route to wealth depends on what Chinese call “guanxi,” a catch-all word for the connections considered crucial for doing business in the country. It helps explain why princelings with no official posts wield influence. Or, as a Chinese proverb puts it: When a man gets power, even his chickens and dogs rise to heaven.

“If you are a sibling of someone who is very important in China, automatically people will see you as a potential agent of influence and will treat you well in the hope of gaining guanxi with the bigwig relative,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a professor of government at Harvard who focuses on Chinese elite politics.

The link between political power and wealth isn’t unique to China. Lyndon B. Johnson was so poor starting out in life that he borrowed $75 to enroll in Southwest Texas State Teachers College in 1927, according to his presidential library. After almost three decades of elective office, he and his family had media and real-estate holdings worth $14 million in 1964, his first full year as president, according to an August 1964 article in Life Magazine.

Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, said the nexus of power and wealth can be found in any country. “But there is no country where this is more true than China,” he said. “There’s a huge passive advantage to just being in one of these family trees.”

Yao Jianfu, a retired government researcher who has called for greater disclosure of assets by leaders, said it wouldn’t be right to tie Xi Jinping to the businesses of his family.

“If other members of the family are independent business representatives, I think it’s unfair to describe it as a family clan and count it as Xi Jinping’s,” Yao said in a telephone interview.

The lineage of Xi’s siblings hasn’t always been an advantage. Xi Zhongxun, the father, was purged by Mao in 1962. Like many other princelings, the children were scattered to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. The 5-yuan payment Qiaoqiao received for working in a corps with 500 other youths in Inner Mongolia made her feel rich, she recalled in an interview on the website of Beijing-based Tsinghua University.

After Mao’s death in 1976, the family was rehabilitated and Xi’s sister Qiaoqiao pursued a career with the military and as a director with the People’s Armed Police. She resigned to care for her father, who had retired in 1990, Qiaoqiao said in the Tsinghua interview.

A year later, she bought an apartment in what was then the British colony of Hong Kong for HK$3 million ($387,000) -- at the time, equivalent to almost 900 times the average Chinese worker’s annual salary. She still owns the property, in the Pacific Palisades complex in Braemar Hill on Hong Kong island, land registry records show.

By 1997, Qi and Deng had recorded an investment of 15.3 million yuan in a company that later became Shenzhen Yuanwei Industries Co., a holding group, documents show. The assets of that company aren’t publicly available. However, one of its subsidiaries, Shenzhen Yuanwei Investment, had assets of 1.85 billion yuan ($291 million) at the end of 2010. It is 99 percent owned by the couple, according to a December 2011 filing by a securities firm.

It was after her father’s death in 2002 that Qi said she decided to go into business, according to the Tsinghua interview. She graduated from Tsinghua’s executive master’s degree in business administration program in 2006 and founded its folk-drumming team. It plays in the style of Shaanxi province, where Xi Zhongxun was born.

The names Qi Qiaoqiao, Deng Jiagui or Zhang Yannan appear on the filings of at least 25 companies over the past two decades in China and Hong Kong, either as shareholders, directors or legal representatives -- a term that denotes the person responsible for a company, such as its chairman.

In some filings, Qi used the name Chai Lin-hing. The alias was linked to her because of biographical details in a Chinese company document that match those in two published interviews with Qi Qiaoqiao. Chai Lin-hing has owned multiple companies and a property in Hong Kong with Deng Jiagui.

In 2005, Zhang Yannan started appearing on Hong Kong documents, when Qi and Deng transferred to her 99.98 percent of a property-holding company that owns one apartment, a unit in the Regent on the Park development with an estimated value of HK$54 million ($6.96 million).

Land registry records show Zhang paid HK$150 million ($19 million) in 2009 for the villa on Belleview Drive in Repulse Bay, one of Hong Kong’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Property prices have since jumped about 60 percent in the area.

Her Hong Kong identity card number, written on one of the sale documents, matches that found on the company she owns with her mother and Deng Jiagui, Special Joy Investments Ltd. All three people share the same Hong Kong address in a May 12 filing.

Zhang owns four other luxury units in the Convention Plaza Apartments residential tower with panoramic harbor views adjoining the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Since its 1997 return by Britain to Chinese rule, Hong Kong has been governed autonomously, with its own legal and banking systems. About a third of all purchases of new luxury homes in the territory are by mainland Chinese buyers, according to Centaline Property Agency Ltd.

In mainland China, Qi and Deng’s marquee project is a luxury housing complex called Guanyuan near Beijing’s financial district, boasting manicured gardens and a gray-brick exterior reminiscent of the city’s historic courtyard homes. Financial details on the developer aren’t available because of restrictions on company searches in Beijing.

To finance the development, the couple borrowed from friends and banks, and aimed to attract officials and executives at state-owned companies, they told V Marketing China magazine in a 2006 interview. Property prices in the capital rose 79 percent in the following four years, government data show.

The site’s developer -- 70 percent owned by Qi and Deng’s Yuanwei Investment -- acquired more than 10,000 square meters of land for 95.6 million yuan in 2004 to build Guanyuan, according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources.

A 189-square-meter (2,034-square-foot) three-bedroom apartment in Guanyuan listed online in June for 15 million yuan. One square meter sells for 79,365 yuan -- more than double China’s annual per capita gross domestic product.

Public anger at soaring housing costs has made real estate an especially sensitive issue for leaders in China. Property prices were “far from a reasonable level,” Premier Wen said in March.

The lack of a level playing field and unaffordable home prices mean “you can be cut out of the China dream,” said Joseph Fewsmith, director of the Center for the Study of Asia at Boston University, who focuses on Chinese politics. “Is the rise of China going to last if you build it around these sorts of unequal opportunities?”

Those with the right connections are able to gain access to assets that are controlled by the government, according to Bo Zhiyue, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.

“All they need is to get into the game one small step ahead of the others and they can make a huge gain,” he said. Bo wasn’t discussing the specific investments of Xi’s family members.

One of Deng’s well-timed acquisitions was in a state-owned company with investments in rare-earth metals.

Deng’s Shanghai Wangchao Investment Co. bought a 30 percent stake in Jiangxi Rare Earth for 450 million yuan ($71 million) in 2008, according to a bond prospectus.

Deng owned 60 percent of Shanghai Wangchao. A copy of Deng’s Chinese identity card found in company registry documents matches one found in filings of a Yuanwei subsidiary. Yuanwei group-linked executives held the posts of vice chairman and chief financial officer in Jiangxi Rare Earth, the filings show.

The investment came as China, which has a near monopoly on production of the metals, was tightening control over production and exports, a policy that led to a more than fourfold surge in prices for some rare earths in 2011.

A woman who answered the phone at Jiangxi Rare Earth’s head office in Nanchang said she was unable to provide financial information because the company wasn’t listed on the stock exchange. She declined to discuss Shanghai Wangchao’s investment, saying it was too sensitive.

Qi Qiaoqiao’s daughter Zhang made her 3.17 million-yuan investment in Hiconics in the three years before the Beijing- based manufacturer of electronic devices sold shares to the public in 2010. Hiconics founder Liu Jincheng was in the same executive MBA class as Qi Qiaoqiao, according to his profile on Tsinghua’s website.

Wang Dong, the company’s board secretary, didn’t respond to faxed questions or phone calls seeking comment.

The business interests of Qi and Deng may be more extensive still: The names appear as the legal representative of at least 11 companies in Beijing and Shenzhen, cities where restrictions on access to filings make it difficult to determine ownership of companies or asset values.

For example, Deng was the legal representative of a Beijing-based company that bought a 0.8 percent stake in one of China’s biggest developers, Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Co., for 30 million yuan in a 2009 private placement. Dalian Wanda Commercial had sales of 95.3 billion yuan ($15 billion) last year.

Dalian Wanda Commercial “doesn’t comment on private transactions,” it said in an e-mailed statement.

Deng also served as legal representative of a company that won a government contract to help build a 1 billion-yuan ($157 million) bridge in central China’s Hubei province, according to an official website and corporate records.

Complex ownership structures are common in China, according to Victor Shih, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who studies the link between finance and politics in the country. Princelings engage people they trust, often members of their extended families, to open companies on their behalf that bid for contracts from state-owned enterprises, said Shih, who wasn’t referring specifically to Xi’s family.

In the case of Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law, Wu Long, he’s identified as chairman of New Postcom in two reports on the website of the Guangzhou Development District, one in 2009 and the other a year later.

New Postcom doesn’t provide a list of management on its website. Searches in Chinese on Baidu Inc.’s search engine using the name “Wu Long” and “New Postcom” trigger a warning, also in Chinese: “The search results may not be in accordance with relevant laws, regulations and policies, and cannot display.”

New Postcom is owned by two people named Geng Minhua and Hua Feng, filings show. Their address in the company documents leads to the ninth floor of a decades-old concrete tower in Beijing where Geng’s elderly mother lives. Tacked to the wall of her living room was the mobile-phone number of her daughter.

When contacted by phone June 6, Geng confirmed she owned New Postcom with her son Hua Feng -- and that her daughter was married to Wu Ming, Wu Long’s younger brother. Geng said Wu Long headed the company and she wasn’t involved in the management.

New Postcom identified two different people -- Hong Ying and Ma Wenbiao -- as its owners in a six-page, June 27 statement and said the head of the company was a person named Liu Ran. The company didn’t respond to repeated requests to explain the discrepancies. Wu Long and his wife, Qi An’an, couldn’t be reached for comment.

New Postcom was an upstart company that benefited from state contracts. It specialized in the government-mandated home- grown 3G mobile-phone standard deployed by China Mobile. In 2007, it won a share of a tender to supply handsets, beating out more established competitors such as Motorola Inc., according to BDA China.

“They were an unknown that suddenly appeared,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA. “People were expecting Motorola to get a big part of that device contract, and then a no-name company just appeared at the top of the list.”

In 2007, the domestic mobile standard was still being developed, and many of the bigger players were sitting on the sidelines, allowing New Postcom a bigger share of the market, the company said in the statement.

William Moss, the Beijing-based spokesman of the Motorola Mobility unit that was split off from Motorola last year and purchased by Google Inc. (GOOG), declined to comment on details of any individual bids. China Mobile “has always insisted on the principle of open, fair, just and credible bidding” to select vendors, company spokesman Zhang Xuan said by e-mail.

Xi Jinping’s younger brother, Xi Yuanping, is the founding chairman of an energy advisory body called the International Energy Conservation Environmental Protection Association. He doesn’t play an active role in the organization, according to an employee who declined to be identified.

One of Xi’s nieces has a higher profile. Hiu Ng, the daughter of Qi An’an and Wu Long, and her husband Daniel Foa, 35, last year were listed as speakers at a networking symposium in the Maldives on sustainable tourism with the likes of the U.K. billionaire Richard Branson and the actress Daryl Hannah.

Ng recently began working with Hudson Clean Energy Partners LP, which manages a fund of more than $1 billion in the U.S., to help identify investments in China.

Details about the couple were removed from Internet profiles after Bloomberg reporters contacted them. Foa said by phone he couldn’t comment about FairKlima Capital, a clean- energy fund they set up in 2007. Ng didn’t respond to e-mails asking for an interview.

The two are no longer mentioned on the FairKlima website. A June 3 cache of the “Contact Us” webpage includes short biographies of Ng and Foa under the headline “Senior Management Team.”

A reference on Ng’s LinkedIn profile that said on June 8 that she worked at New Postcom has since been removed, along with her designation as “Vice Chair Hudson Clean Energy Partners China.”

Neil Auerbach, the Teaneck, New Jersey-based private-equity firm’s founder, said he was working with Ng because of her longstanding passion for sustainability.

“We are aware of her political connections, but her focus is on sustainable investing, and that’s the purpose,” he said in a June 13 interview. “We’re delighted to be working with her.”

From Fujairah to where?

25 June 2012

A UAE airline that previously announced plans to operate the country’s first ever domestic air routes has said it’s inaugural flight will take-off next week - headed for war-torn Somalia.

Attempts by Fujairah-based carrier Eastern Express to provide flights between the emirate and Abu Dhabi, have been stymied by delays.

Fleet delivery problems clipped the company’s wings when it tried to jet into UAE skies in the first quarter of this year.

A UAE airline that previously announced plans to operate the country’s first ever domestic air routes has said it’s inaugural flight will take-off next week - headed for war-torn Somalia

Flying to highly troubled Somalia however - which has topped international think-tank the Fund for Peace’s ‘failed state’ index for the past five years - seems to present no such problems for the fledgling carrier.

“There has always been a need for internal and regional flights in Somalia,” the airline’s business development manager Mike Carvath told 7DAYS.

“Somalia is a huge place but a lot of the country’s roads are unsafe and unsuitable.” Eastern Express will initially fly to Garowe in the north east of Somalia and the country’s main port of Basoso which serves the Gulf of Aden - the scene of numerous heists by ruthless Somali pirates.

However, Carvath is confident there will be no shortage of flyers from the UAE, particularly among the substantial number of Somalis living in Dubai.

“We expect to get business from businessmen and their families,” he says. Eastern Express plans to serve Somalia twice a week - and is targeting 30 to 35 passengers per flight. However the firm will do so from Sharjah International Airport, rather than Fujairah.

The airline alsos plan to fly to Djibouti, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Nairobi in Kenya and - in time - the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Eastern Express admitted Fujairah-based domestic services to other emirates in the UAE were “still delayed” - but declined to say for how much longer.

In March this year, CEO Alex De Vos admitted to delegates at an aviation conference in Dubai that the delay of the carrier’s launch had “financial implications” for the Fujairah flyer, adding: “A lot of other businesses would have shut its doors and said ‘it’s just not worth it’ - yes, but we’re stupid.”

Consultants for hire

20 June 2012

Oxford Business Group (OBG) is the type of firm that gives consultants a bad name. They are paid to praise.

Today they are responsible for one of the media's most misleading headlines of the day reported by Arabian Business - Dubai property crisis over, says Oxford Business Group. In an article to be published in Arabian Business magazine, OBG regional editor Oliver Cornock added that “other areas of the sector are also showing signs that recent declines are beginning to reverse.”

Nonsense - this report comes the same day as Nakheel empties all six pools at one of its Jumairah Palm developments over unpaid service charges.

Arabian Business describes the Oxford Business Group as a "research giant". The reality is  that OBG is little more than a PR outfit that specialises in a branch of the advertorial market called ‘country reports’. What is depressing is that media outlets then use these reports to sustain uncritical analysis.

The name, Oxford Business Group, is just one example of how this company sets out to present itself as something it is not. OBG has not connected to Oxford or its University.

The claims that Oxford Business Group is a “global intelligence research and consulting firm” are equally misleading.

The chief mover and shaker behind the enterprise, the British businessman Michael Benson Colpi, presents his Country Reports and economic press releases as if they were a form of invaluable investor intelligence.

However, although these reports appear to be marketed at a very fancy price on the OBG website, they are in fact paid for by the governments or government owned enterprises (such as Emirates Airline) that commission them, which is a very different business model indeed.

You only have to look at the countries that have utilised the OBG’s services and those that haven’t. Don’t bother to seek OBG investment advice on Europe, America, Australia or indeed any country where there is any form of transparency or auditing of government expenditure.

OBG specialises instead in “emerging economies” and countries seeking positive coverage, which they cannot get elsewhere. OBG's Bahrain 2012 report is a prime example of this work: the introduction to the Bahrain 2012 report says "Bahrain has weathered the effects of a difficult global economic period well, and its recovery has been solid, demonstrating the strength and flexibility of its economy. The government’s drive to diversify away from oil and gas dependence has been renewed, and a wealth of ambitious non-oil sector projects – from infrastructure to renewable energy technology – is now in the pipeline. The banking sector remains especially strong, and Bahrain’s reputation as a leading regional player in this sector is assured. Yet as the Kingdom branches out into more diverse and specialised segments within tourism and industry, the country is set to develop an even more broad-based and resilient economy."

Not bad for a nation in crisis.

In a Syria report OBG headlined on “High Powered Diplomacy as the world beats a path to Damascus” OBG continued: “With expanding trade ties and rising levels of foreign investment, as well as a young and rapidly growing population, Syria is poised for economic growth in the coming years. Reform programs are under way in many areas.”

Oh dear.

The concern about the activities of organisations like Oxford Business Group is not that they are providing misleading investment advice. No investor would bother with them.
It is that government and government organisations use these purchased reports to justify potentially misleading information and present it as independent. It is not.

Coming soon is an OBG report on "Dubai 2013" which "will provide in-depth analysis of Dubai's key sectors including detailed coverage of its financial services sectors. It will also contain a detailed, business guide for foreign investors, alongside a wide range of interviews with the most prominent political, economic and business leaders." When you read it just ask who paid for it?

Emirates announces Erbil

20 June 2012

A 4.30am turnaround to Erbil is not glamourous; but it does show how the Iraq market is growing.

Emirates Airline announced today that is will launch flights to Erbil from August 12 in what will become the third Iraqi destination served by the Dubai-based carrier.

The service to the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan province will initially run four times a week before becoming daily from September 1.

It will be operated by an Airbus 340-300 in a 267-seat, three-class configuration, and will have capacity for 13 tonnes of cargo.

Emirates currently operates a daily flight to the Iraqi capital Baghdad and a four times a week service to the coastal city of Basra.

Known to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Erbil has a population of approximately five million people and is the fourth largest city in Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurdistan region has the sixth largest oil reserve globally with many of the world’s large oil multinationals availing of offices there.

The region is booming with new, large-scale construction projects including a 1.6 billion US-dollar media centre considered to be one of the principal projects currently in development.

Emirates has been offering a cargo service to Erbil since February 2011.

The Emirates flight EK949 will take off on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from Dubai International Airport at 4.30 am and land in Erbil International Airport at 6.30am. The return flight, EK950, will depart Erbil at 8am and arriving in Dubai at 11.40am the same day.

Aung San Suu Kyi: in the steps of Garibaldi

In 1918 it was Woodrow Wilson, in 1931 Mahatma Gandhi, in the 1990s Nelson Mandela and now, in 2012, at last a heroic woman

20 June 2012 The Guardian

Aung San Suu Kyi said this week she had been surprised to discover the depth of international popular feeling in support of her cause. In that case, the Burmese democracy leader is in for a week of further surprises as her hugely cheering visit to Britain continues. In her grim years of imposed isolation, under house arrest in Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi may not have fully understood the extent to which she had become a global democratic symbol, long before the word viral took on its modern, digital meaning. Now, greeted with unstinting admiration on her visits to the London School of Economics and the BBC on Tuesday, at Oxford University on Wednesday, and in front of a joint session of parliament in London on Thursday, she can surely no longer be in doubt.

A few may be tempted to worry that Aung San Suu Kyi has become an easily convenient political icon for the celebrity age and for what is in so many other respects a depoliticised culture. Aung San Suu Kyi's dignity, her suffering, her appearance – and, especially in this part of the world, her fluency in English – combine to make her an image-maker's dream. There is no arguing with the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi's story and manner make her an ideal vessel for communicating her country's cause to the wider world. What rock star wouldn't want a piece of her magic? Maybe it is not surprising that even the democracy campaigner herself should fear the public might not take the cause of Burmese freedom sufficiently seriously.

Fortunately, such fears are groundless, for two powerful reasons. The first is that the modern media which have made Aung San Suu Kyi into one of the most recognisable political leaders in the world are a source of strength, not weakness. The fact that most people on the planet know about her is the primary reason why she has been freed by the Burmese authorities and why she has now been confident enough to travel abroad. But the second is that no one should underestimate the internationalist feeling of the British people.

This internationalism has very deep roots. "It was a sight and sound to check the pulse, and make the cheek pale, and bring the tears into the eyes," this newspaper's correspondent reported as Londoners cheered the arrival of Garibaldi in 1864. The crowds that massed for Garibaldi were exceptional. Yet succeeding generations have repeatedly had their own Garibaldis too, their own genuinely popular foreign heroes who incarnated global liberty and justice for their own age, who transcended boundaries of nationality and race, and who seemed to embody the absolute best of ourselves. To the generation of 1918, that visiting hero was Woodrow Wilson. In 1931 it was Mahatma Gandhi. In the 1990s it was, of course, Nelson Mandela. And now, in 2012, it is at last a heroic woman, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Watford FC sold

19 June 2012

The owners of the Italian Serie A team Udinese have agreed a takeover of Watford, according to the Championship club.

The Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo has owned Udinese since 1986 and his family bought the Spanish club Granada three years ago. Now they are adding Watford to their portfolio of clubs; not a bad way to move Euros into British pounds.

Watford were in the Premier League in 2006-07 but were relegated after one season and have been in the Championship since. They enjoyed their best years in the early 1980s, when Elton John was the chairman and they climbed from the old Fourth Division to the top flight. They finished runners-up in the old First Division behind Liverpool in 1983 and lost the FA Cup final to Everton a year later. I was at both the Liverpool game and the Cup Final against Everton.

Watford owner Laurence Bassini bought the club 15 months ago when he fronted Watford FC Limited's £440,000 takeover. A bargain. But it looks as though he has flipped the club quickly.

This should be good news for Watford. There was little trust of Bassini. It may be that new owners will ensure the completion of developments such as the new pitch and the SW corner are fully funded.

The sale to the Pozzos will likely mean the end of Sean Dyche as manager and the arrival of Gianfranco Zola. That would be hard on Dyche who excelled with very limited resources last season.

There is a strong possibility that Pozzo would want to bring some of Udinese’s younger players on loan to Watford, which is what he has done with Granada. Watford as a nursery club for Udinese would be bad news.

Watford needs an owner who will buy in to the values of the club and provide an extended period of financial and organisational stability.

Don Mueang's new dawn

19 June 2012

The Cabinet today approved the budget of Bt1.6 billion to renovate the Don Mueang Airport, paving way for the reopening of the old airport for international flights. A number of 14 airlines are expected to operate at the old Bangkok airport, which will unofficially reopen in August and officially in October.

Under the budget requested by Airports of Thailand Plc, the airport operator, it will cover the improvement of east and west runway surface and infrastructure.

Deputy Government Spokesman Chalitrat Chandrubeksa said that after the renovation, Don Mueang will be ready for low-cost airlines and serve both domestic and point-to-point international flights.

"The prime minister has the policy to have two Bangkok airports as fully utilised as possible. Related ministries and agencies have also be prepared for the relocation of airlines to this airport," he said.

The 14 airlines to operate at the old airport operate both scheduled flights and chartered flights. Reopening Don Mueang Airport will help reduce the number of passengers at the new airport, Suvarnabhumi, by 7-8 million per annum.

Don Mueang suffered from high-level flood last year. Meanwhile, Suvarnabhumi Airport is now catering service beyond its capacity, when the number of passengers last year exceeded 46 million while its maximum capacity was 45 million per annum. The new airport is also now closing the east runway for maintenance, the first time since opening in 2006. Don Mueang has so far served domestic flights.

Reopening the old airport for international flights is one condition set by Thai AirAsia, the low-cost airline which is courted to move to Don Mueang to reduce congestion at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

CIMB Securities (Thailand) said in its research note, released today, that Thai AirAsia (which carried 8 million passengers last year) would join Nok Air (4 million passengers) at Don Mueang. Relocating low-cost airlines to the old airport should involve an incentive package, including discounts on landing and parking and rental charges.

The real story here is that Suwannaphum, planned and promoted as a single airport for Bangkok, clearly is already having trouble performing that role, never mind five or ten years into the future.

If Thai politicians weren't such pitiful clowns they would do what most of us would do, and hire a professional and foreign consulting company to do a feasibility study on the proposed changes and an implementation process. But when has doing something efficiently or correctly been a priority here.

Who in their right mind thinks it's a good idea to oblige every single international passenger that wants to connect domestically to travel across BKK to an airport that's a known flood risk.

It's just rank stupidity.

I have no problem with being given a choice, for example fly with Airasia DM to CM for 2000 baht, or go with Thai for 3000 baht from Swampy, I'm paying the three thousand baht. It might have escaped the attention of some people, but when I'm on holiday I don't want to eff about in taxi ranks, traffic jams and airport concourses. I'll spend the extra 1000 baht easy for the convenience, in fact in my case I would go more than that.

.there is no way TG will operate domestic from another airport-they are a spoke and hub airline with thousands of codeshares with other Star Alliance carriers. There is no way in hell someone would fly from London to Bangkok, change airports to fly to Phuket. Maybe Thaismile will move there but the core airline operation needs to stay in one airport.

There are so many cities that have LCC at another airport and there are no decent links between the airport, ever tried getting from Heathrow to Luton or Standsted, or from JFK to LGA, Orly to CDG, FCO to CIA it is a pain in the butt.

But think about it, the LCC's like Scoot or Cebu Pacific they are point to point with no interlining in BKK so move them out and de-congest swampy.

Emirates London cable car

19 June 2012

The new River Thames cable car, the Emirates Air Line will open on June 28. The Emirates Air Line will open at midday allowing passengers to cross the Thames in just five minutes.

The 1.1km long river crossing, between Greenwich and the Royal Docks, will have the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction, the equivalent of 30 buses.

Initially it will operate seven days a week, from 7am to 9pm Mondays to Fridays, 8am to 9pm on Saturdays and 9am to 9pm on Sundays. Transport for London (TfL) said the hours would be extended for use during the Olympic Games which starts next month.

A single fare boarding pass using an Oyster card for the Emirates Air Line will cost £3.20 (child fare £1.60), with fares of £4.30 without an Oyster card. This is a one way fare - it is expensive.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: “The Emirates Air Line is part of my plan to develop a package of new river crossings in east London and transform the surrounding area into a vibrant new metropolitan quarter that will attract new jobs, homes and enterprise.”

Emirates Airline helped to make this new transport scheme a reality by investing £36m in a ten year sponsorship deal.

In a press announcement Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline is quoted: "Emirates is known for its innovative customer experiences and our partnership with Transport for London to link communities in the city is a testament to this. The Emirates Air Line will bridge people closer, enabling them to discover, connect and express their ideas about this diverse city through crossing its majestic river, providing an incredible travel experience for residents, commuters and visitors alike."

All 34 cabins of the Emirates Air Line are currently undergoing final load testing flights as part of a series of rigorous safety trials. The tests involve the cabins travelling across 1.1km of cable, gliding 90 metres above the Thames with weights representing the maximum number of passengers.

The cable car will travel between two terminals: The Emirates Greenwich Peninsula, near The O2, and The Emirates Royal Docks, close to Royal Victoria DLR station and ExCeL.

Aung San Suu Kyi's Oxford return

19 June 2012 Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Before Aung San Suu Kyi was a prisoner of conscience and a political icon, she inhabited a world of children's birthday parties, university libraries and bicycle-filled English suburbs.

The leader of Myanmar's democracy movement spent years in the university city of Oxford with her English academic husband and their two sons. She left one day in 1988 to care for her sick mother, thinking she would be gone for weeks. Almost a quarter of a century later, she is about to return for the first time.

Yesterday, Suu Kyi begins a weeklong trip to Britain as part of a European tour. Her itinerary includes talks with Prime Minister David Cameron, an address to Parliament and a meeting with Prince Charles.

But the most bittersweet moment will likely be her homecoming to Oxford, where on Wednesday the 66-year-old will finally accept the honorary doctorate she was awarded in 1993, while she was under house arrest in Yangon.

Oxford looks much the same as when she left, a traffic-clogged jumble of spires and bridges and Gothic college buildings. But her children are grown and her beloved husband, Michael Aris, is dead.

"I'm sure within herself it'll be an extremely emotional moment," said Peter Popham, author of "The Lady and the Peacock," a biography of Suu Kyi. "When she left in March 1988 she expected to be away for a while, possibly a few months, but certainly not 24 years."

Suu Kyi arrived in Oxford in 1964 from a background marked by both privilege and tragedy.

She had been educated at a convent school in New Delhi, where her mother was ambassador for the country then known as Burma. Her father, Gen. Aung San, a political leader who negotiated Burma's independence from Britain, had been assassinated by political rivals in 1947, when she was 2.

She studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University's then-women-only St. Hugh's College, a handsome collection of red brick Edwardian buildings set in extensive gardens.

Student friend Ann Pasternak Slater recalled a striking figure whose "firm moral convictions and inherited social grace contrasted sharply with the tatty dress and careless manners, vague liberalism and uncertain sexual morality" of her English counterparts.

Suu Kyi was not a party animal — she tasted alcohol just once, to see what it was like — but did embrace other Oxford traditions.

In the essay collection "Freedom From Fear," Pasternak Slater described her learning to operate a punt — Oxford's characteristic flat-bottomed boats — and to ride a bicycle, swapping her traditional Burmese long skirt, the longyi, for a pair of white jeans.

While at Oxford, Suu Kyi met Aris, a Himalayan scholar who later served as tutor to the children of the king of Bhutan. They married in 1972 — on condition that if her country ever needed her, she would go.

Neither imagined how high the price would be.

"She thought she might go to Burma one day to set up a mobile library once the kids were grown and Michael was retired," said Rebecca Frayn, screenwriter of "The Lady," a recent feature film about Suu Kyi. "They had a little dream that he would grow orchids."

The couple lived in Bhutan and London, then settled in Oxford when Aris got an academic post. Suu Kyi looked after sons Alexander and Kim and pursued doctoral studies.

Frayn said the future Nobel peace laureate embraced her role as academic wife and "utterly devoted mother."

"She was famed for her exquisitely organized birthday parties," Frayn said. "The common thing is that she did whatever she did to the Nth degree."

In March 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar to nurse her dying mother, and found herself on the front line of mass pro-democracy protests that erupted soon after. The hospital where her mother was being treated was inundated with injured demonstrators.

As the daughter of a national hero, Suu Kyi was an instant emblem of the movement. She embraced her destiny and helped form the National League for Democracy — with the support of her far-off husband.

"From the outset, they knew it was a tough decision to go into politics," Popham said. "But I don't think any of them had an idea of how hard it was going to be. Michael thought the regime would collapse within months and they would be reunited by Christmas 1988."

In fact, Aris saw his wife only a handful of times after she left Oxford.

The NLD won elections in 1990, but was kept from power by the military junta. Suu Kyi spent much of the next 20 years under house arrest, finally being released in November 2010. In April, she won a seat in the country's national assembly, and is campaigning for further reform.

The couple's predicament took a cruel twist in 1997, when Aris was diagnosed with what turned out to be terminal prostate cancer. The junta would have allowed Suu Kyi to leave Myanmar to visit him — but she feared she would not be allowed to return. He applied 30 times for visas to visit her; all were rejected.

"He was adamant she shouldn't come back," Frayn said. "He was convinced (his visa) would be granted and he would die in her arms."

Aris died in Oxford on his 53rd birthday in 1999. He had not seen his wife in more than three years.

Frayn said the years of separation had left a "complex emotional legacy" for Suu Kyi's sons, now in their 30s.

Kim Aris lives in Oxford and has visited his mother several times since her release from house arrest. Elder brother Alexander — who at age 18 delivered the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize address on behalf of his mother — lives in a Buddhist community in Portland, Oregon. Neither has given interviews to the media.

Suu Kyi, too, rarely speaks of her emotions — a reflection, Frayn said, both of her Buddhist faith and of her political convictions.

"She is surrounded in the National League for Democracy by people who spent many years in prison, and in some senses her context is that she got off lightly compared to a lot of her close political colleagues," Frayn said. "She has said that this is in a sense her cross to bear, the long-term separation from her sons.

"A journalist once said to her that her story was like a Greek tragedy. She absolutely rebuked him and said: I made a choice."

Postponing the inevitable

18 June 2012

So Antonis Samaras, the leader of the centre-right New Democracy party which came first in the poll, is to launch coalition talks in Greece today. He said yesterday that his party would honour all its commitments to the EU and the result was a "victory for all Europe".

But what has changed. New Democracy still polled less that 30% of the votes to be up by seats while Syriza increased its representation by 19 seats.

The answer is that both New Democracy and Pasok, who finished third with just over 12% of the votes, campaigned this time on the basis of backing the bailout and austerity, and they have enough seats together to form a majority in parliament. Last time they only had 149 together, one seat short of a majority.

Leaders of the EU appear relieved that a pro-austerity government could now form. If the anti-austerity party Syriza had won, its leader Alexis Tsipras had pledged to renegotiate the punishing terms of its bailout, threatening its place within the euro. Syriza came a close second, with 26.89% and will be a forceful opposition.

But Greek austerity alone is not the answer. If Greece is to remain in the eurozone in the longer term then Eurozone governments and the European Central Bank will need to write off a big slug of what they are owed.

In case you have forgotten during the turmoil of what has since transpired, Greece's private-sector lenders agreed in the spring to let the Greek government off around 100bn euros of principal repayments. Governments have not yet made such a move.

But even with that massive and unprecedented cancelling of the debt of a developed economy, the total debt of the Greek government is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be around 160% of GDP and this is not changing. The Greek economy cannot make good this debt burden.

Yet there is no suggestion that a write-down of the 161bn euros owed by Greece to eurozone governments and the 50bn euros owed to the European Central Bank is on the negotiating table.

New Democracy says it wants an extra two years to implement spending cuts and tax rises - the austerity programme. The German government may be prepared to offer an extension of the repayment date on Greece's vast debt.

Neither dare talk about what many would say is the only thing that matters - the quantum of what Greece owes.

That's partly because forgiving Greece its official debts might well cause fury among German taxpayers - currently owed almost 90bn euros by the Greek state, if Bundesbank funding of lending by the Greek central bank is included (the so-called Target2 balance).

Germany could probably afford a 50% writedown of what it's owed, given the strength of its economy and public finances; the write down would be equivalent to just over 1% of its GDP. Butt debt forgiveness for Greece would be the thin end of a very thick wedge.

Al of which suggests that the eurozone will continue to expect Greece to honour all its massive debts. Which it cannot pay.

Unless there is some kind of miraculous recovery, the question will continue to loom large for Greek people and leaders whether they should try to escape a crushing debt burden by leaving the eurozone.

Missed targets will continue to be a source of disagreements and controversy, particularly inside Germany, while the continued EU/ECB/IMF Troika presence on the ground in Greece means that any delays will come to light quickly. Therefore, Greece’s future in the eurozone remains uncertain. For the single currency as a whole, should a compromise be possible in Greece, the focus of attention will shift back to Spain – whose banks remain a major liability for the euro.

Politically there will not be a third Greek bailout? Meanwhile this sorry Euro tragedy drags on. What is needed is a fundamental decision over Greece’s eurozone membership made before the money runs out, within the next six to nine months.

To leave the Euro Greece and the Eurozone countries need time. If Greece left the euro now it would still need external short-term support, potentially split between the IMF, the Eurozone and non-euro countries including the UK.

A Greek exit and the withdrawal of ECB support would almost certainly lead to the undercapitalised Greek banking sector collapsing. To avoid a massive bank run and huge losses to pensions, banks and pensions funds between them would instantly need an injection of fresh capital, which would be difficult for Greece to afford without external support.

The new Greek Central Bank would also need to create at least €128bn worth of the new currency (63% of Greek GDP) in liquidity to help keep Greek banks afloat. This could trigger high levels of inflation, though these might only be temporary.

While messy there must be many in Greece who see an exit as increasingly attractive – particularly if the only alternative for Athens is to permanently give up economic and political sovereignty.

Yesterday's election may have simply delayed the inevitable.

Let's end the hypocrisy of 'Sport for all'

15 June 2012 Terence Blacker The Independent

Perhaps, before Olympic madness seriously sets in, we could quietly drop the much-repeated mantra of the Games, "Sport for all". The events of this week have made that principle seem a touch silly, maybe even hypocritical. Far from providing what Lord Coe has called "a symphony of inspiration that will create lasting change", the London Olympics, along with English football's Premier League, have been offering a stirring overture of financial exploitation. The true motto of the moment is "Sport for maximum profit" and, as one has come to expect, it has been those least able to afford it who are being exploited.

When the Government proudly announced that expenditure on London 2012, having been increased, would now come in under budget and that almost half a billion pounds would be returned to the Treasury, it omitted to point out that much of the cash had originally come from the National Lottery. In other words, a neat little transfer of funds has taken place, away from the Big Lottery Fund, which supports communities across the country at a time when they need it most, and into the coffers of the Government, via the London Games. It is, as Jay Kennedy of the Directory of Social Change has said, "an utter outrage – and verging on money laundering".

Another version of the same tune has been played in the world of football where the Premiership clubs have just become massively richer – once again at the expense of the poor old consumer. Selling TV rights for £3.018bn, the Premier League has increased its earnings since the last round of negotiation by a cool 70 per cent. The league's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, who had the grace to be somewhat abashed by the scale of the deal at a time of recession, inevitably trotted out a few Coe-ish platitudes about how some of the money would trickle down to smaller clubs and good works.

The argument that as the hugely rich spectator sports become even richer, the better it is for the rest of us is utterly bogus and unconvincing. Athletes, footballers and other sporting heroes can, indeed, inspire future generations, encouraging them to take pleasure from competition and exercise, but only if the money earned at the top is genuinely shared around.

Instead we see, both in the milking of Olympic money from the Lottery and in the profitable business dealings of the Premier League, a very 21st-century version of sporting excellence. A small number of fortunate people make vast fortunes out of the rest of the population who sit plumply in front of a TV or computer screen.

The Olympics and the best of football should inspire the young to run, jump, ride and play for a fuller life. Instead, thanks to their ruling bodies, they are being encouraged to be spectators and, even more important, consumers.

Thai culture ministry goes Gaga

15 June 2012

First she made a joke about buying a fake Rolex. Now Thailand's Culture Ministry has filed a complaint to police against Lady Gaga for misuse of the Thai flag during her show last month.

OK; this is the Culture Ministry; the same people who get upset at Thai girls dancing at Songkran.

The ministry said the part of Lady Gaga's performance when she wore a traditional headdress and sat on a motorcycle in a skimpy outfit with a Thai flag trailing behind was "inappropriate and hurt Thai people's sentiment".

Sure; and of course the 50,000 people in the stadium were all shocked and offended. Maybe not.

"We are not asking police to prosecute her but it's our normal procedure to file complaints to concerned agencies when we receive them," a senior ministry official, who declined to be named, said by telephone.

Miss Gaga caused a stir soon after her arrival in Thailand last month by tweeting that "I wanna get lost in a lady market and buy fake Rolex," remarks that some Thais complained cast the kingdom in a negative light.

Maybe dealing with the fakes might be a better response.

So let is think what really tarnishes Thailand's image: Lady Gaga displaying the national flag during her concert or fake goods sold at every street corner (including fake Lady Gaga CDs), pornography on open sale everywhere, double-charging foreign visitors, prostitution, inept government, institutionalised corruption at every level of society, jet ski and gem scams, appalling driving standards frequently resulting in horrible accidents, xenophobia, double standards and hypocrisy, a country being led from abroad by a fugitive felon, red shirt/yellow shirt menace, etc., etc.

Well done the Culture Ministry. Miss Gaga thanks you for the unexpected publicity. Now go and find something useful to do.

The Thai problem that wont go away

14 June 2012

The usual way that Thais solve problems is to ignore them and hope that they go away. But some people and some nations have long memories. And these long memories are very apparent in Saudi Arabia's relationship with Thailand.

Saudi Arabia's outgoing charge d'affaires Nabil Ashri  said that Thailand should set up a special committee to solve the three unresolved cases that Saudi Arabia has repeatedly raised with Thai authorities; namely, the assassination of Saudi Arabian diplomats, the killing of a Saudi businessman and the Saudi royal jewellery theft.

"I hope Thailand can seriously resolve the outstanding problems so that the two countries can restore our close relationship," said Mr Ashri, who arrived in Bangkok at the beginning of 2006.

Pre-conditions for diplomatic normalisation were that Thailand ensures justice, "to tell us what really happened about those cases", he said to a group of reporters and acquaintances at his residence.

One reason nothing gets solved in Thailand is that no one is in their post long enough to take responsibility; Mr. Ashri noted that "during the past six and a half years, I've worked with six governments. The officials, particularly the Department of Special Investigation, who have been handling the Saudi cases have also been changed, and their replacements take time to study it all again." This, he said, made it difficult to make any real progress.

"Twenty-one years have past and we do not have answers yet,” he said. To normalise diplomatic relations Thailand had to offer something. He bade farewell and gave his observations to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last Friday.

Mr Ashri suggested that instead of revolving officials again and again, Thailand should deal with the Saudi problem once and for all, with one committee solely responsible for the Saudi cases.

The story of the Blue Diamond theft is as follows: (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1989, Kriangkrai Techamong, a Thai worker, stole jewelry and other valuable gems from the palace of Prince Faisal bin Fahd where he was employed as a janitor. Kriangkrai Techamong had access to the princess's bedroom and managed to hide the stolen jewelry in a vacuum cleaner bag at the palace. The haul included a valuable Blue diamond and other gems, which Kriangkrai shipped back to his home in Lampang province, Thailand.

An investigation launched by a team from the Royal Thai Police spearheaded by Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes led to the arrest of Kriangkrai and recovery of most of the stolen jewelry. Kriangkai was sentenced to seven years in prison, but he was released after three years after confessing to the crime.

When a team of Royal Thai policemen under Lieutenant-General Chalor Kerdthes flew to Saudi Arabia to return the stolen jewelry the Saudi Arabian authorities found that about half of the returned jewels were fake and the Blue Diamond was missing.

Mohammad al-Ruwaili, a Saudi Arabian businessman close to the Saudi royal family travelled to Bangkok to investigate the case, but was abducted and killed. Three months later, three officials from the Saudi Embassy were also shot dead in Bangkok. The murders remain unsolved.

Lieutenant-General Chalor himself was convicted of ordering the murder of the wife and son of a gem dealer involved in the affair in 1995, and sentenced to death. The supreme court upheld the ruling and sentenced Lieutenant-General Chalor to death on October 16, 2009. Six other officers were also found guilty of involvement in the murders. Chalor's sentence has since been reduced to fifty years.

The diplomatic fall out has been significant: Saudi Arabia stopped issuing working visas for Thais and discouraged its citizens from visiting Bangkok. Diplomatic missions were downgraded to chargé d'affaires level. The number of Thai workers in Saudi Arabia fell from over 150,000 in 1989 to 10,000 in 2006.

Coincidentally the official crest for Queen Sirikit of Thailand's 80th birthday displays a prominent blue diamond. You can see the crest here on the Thai government's web site.

The story of the Blue Diamond is not over.

The continuing cannibalisation of Air Canada

14 June 2012

The cannibalisation of Air Canada continues with a proposal to shift its Asia flights into a new long haul LCC.

The Globe and Mail reports that Air Canada is shifting its strategy for launching a discount operation, focusing on locating a new low-cost international carrier in Vancouver in a bid to tap into the potential of Asian destinations.

Plans call for the new entity to take over Air Canada's overseas flights in and out of Vancouver on wide-body aircraft. Some pilots and flight attendants will be from Canada and others could be based offshore.

Vancouver has emerged as the focal point because Asian markets offer the best growth prospects while the euro zone debt crisis has relegated Europe to a lower priority for Air Canada.

“Vancouver has been an underperforming market for Air Canada on international routes,” said one industry official. “Air Canada is trying to figure out how to make Vancouver work.”

Air Canada aims to start the discount carrier by the spring of 2013. The airline is seeking to bring in an airline partner and a financial investor to avoid having to obtain approval from its pilots' union to forge ahead.

The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) possesses veto power over any new venture controlled by the Montreal-based carrier. But Air Canada envisages an ownership structure that would keep its stake at less than 50 percent, while giving minority stakes to a foreign airline and a financial player yet to be confirmed.

Air Canada chief executive officer Calin Rovinescu first disclosed plans for a low-cost carrier based in Central Canada in April 2011, targeting markets in Europe initially, and later Mexico and the Caribbean.

Air Canada would remain a member of Star Alliance and still handle domestic flights in and out of Vancouver, as well as provide service between Vancouver and the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean....though even that could change once the LCC is set up.

Ben Smith, Air Canada's chief commercial officer, is spearheading the project to make Vancouver the centrepiece of the discount unit's launch. Under the original strategy, Air Canada would have signed a code-sharing pact with its planned low-cost division to co-operate on flight reservations and baggage handling, but a revised proposal calls for the West Coast entity to be effectively independent and have the flexibility to align with a partner that doesn't necessarily belong to the Star Alliance.

Union leaders are upset that Air Canada wants to borrow major elements of the strategy deployed by Australia's Qantas, which runs the low-cost operation Jetstar with airline partners in an array of Asian markets, including service to Japan, Singapore and Vietnam. Qantas has expansion plans slated next year in a Hong Kong-based joint venture with China Eastern Airlines Co. Ltd. for China, Japan and South Korea.

Vancouver is currently served by Asian carriers such as Cathay, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Taiwan-based EVA Airways. Emirates and the other Gulf carriers remian shut out of the Vancouver market due to Air Canada and Star Alliance lobbying of the Canadian government.

Air Canada would like to sign up a partner from China, though it is also possible that the Vancouver-based joint venture could instead involve a European-based carrier such as Virgin Atlantic, which is 51 percent owned by British billionaire Richard Branson and 49 percent by Singapore Airlines.

More BKK airport nonsense

14 June 2012

Bangkok international airport has closed one of its two runways for resurfacing from June 11 till August 10, 2012. The loss of 50% of its runway capacity will inevitably cause delays for passengers arriving at and leaving from Bangkok.

The Notam indicates likely flight delays and recommends carrying additional holding fuel.

But bizarrely the Airports of Thailand (AoT) on Wednesday denied a claim by airline operators that its runway repairs have caused air traffic congestion and flight delays, according to Suvarnabhumi Airport Director Somchai Sawasdeepon.

Mr Somchai said that since the repair works began, only one flight—belonging to United Airlines— was forced to change its destination from Suvarnabhumi to Don Mueang Airport and the main reason was due to the amount of aircraft fuel.

He said that according to the monitors, the delay caused by the runway maintenance was only 30-40 minutes on average, which was not beyond the standard.

He added that the repair work would take around 40 days.

Typical; politicans should not be running airports. This necessity to make nonsensical statements in order to save face is a very Thai trait.

EK update from the IATA conference

13 June 2012

The Gulf News interviewed Tim Clark, President of Emirates, on the sidelines of the IATA annual meeting, held this year in Beijing.

Some of his more interesting comments follow:

On Profitability:

TIM CLARK: I am hoping that we will be ahead of where we were last year. [These are] difficult times… as we have talked about the fuel, the acquisition of many aircraft coming in, opening up new routes, so we are continuing to grow according to our plan. Some years we have great [profit of] Dh5.6 billion the Emirates Group made the year before, Dh2.6bn last year. What are we going to do this year? We will see.

On investing in Indian carriers:

Emirates is not keen on it – not at the moment. What is an investor going to look at? You’re going to look at a strong balance sheet, how the business is run, what the business model is, access to capital and so on. And then you slide Indian aviation into the frame and they say that you can have 49 per cent. Would you do it? It’s fantastic on paper. Then I go and say I want to buy 50 777-300 ERs or 30 A380s, for instance, and the main shareholders say you have to go through a process of procurement that has to go through the Parliament and so on. And 15 years later you are still trying to argue the toss on that.

If I was to say, I will come in but these are the rules of the game – 49 per cent and we have complete management control, we decide where, what and when. So, we source, we negotiate, we bring in, we have complete control to set up the operation the way we see it needs to be done with no interference from anybody. Have you seen that working in India? You have to have the management control to make it work.

On the A380:
We planned for 90 planes, but if there is a freeing of capacity at the airport and we can find a way to get more in, we will probably do it (increase to 120). But at the moment, there isn’t.

The wing-crack issue does affect future deliveries. The aircraft that should have been delivered in March and May are still there in Toulouse, France [Airbus’ headquarters]. These are all being fixed now by Airbus. That means we will take six planes in September and October, three each month. There is a compression now and they have all been delayed.

The wing-crack issue is being dealt with. It’s a long, complex, expensive process. Airbus have identified root cause in the fix. They have to get the regulator to approve it, which they haven’t done at this stage. If they do, we have already mapped with them how is that going to work with all of our planes which would be delivered through the first quarter of 2014. So we have about 43 aircraft which will be subject to the change-out in the structure within the wings under very carefully defined set of rules. So, will the job get done? Yes. Will it be time consuming, expensive? Yes.

We have 21 A380s in service at the moment. Of those we have two grounded today. In October the first ones come back again and have to go through the intervention process, which may or may not require more fixing.

The worst thing for us is that of the 21 [A380s] that we are flying today, six were grounded for quite a long time. And that completely knocked out our A380 programme.

Emirates in 2015 – fleet size and the number of destinations?

Fleet size will be just about 200 aircraft… or maybe 210. And the number of destinations would probably touch 145 – [at the rate of opening] probably five to six new routes a year. We operate to 124 destinations right now. So that will be the largest, most potent hub in the world. No other hub in the world will do what we will be doing by then. Whatever they may claim, internationally, they will not have the number of operations that we do.

On Qantas:

The company is looking to strengthen its ties with Qantas in a bid to benefit from Australian aviation market while stopping short of an equity stake in the Sydney-based airline.

The Australian market has been one that is hugely successful for Emirates. We want to grow our business there and it makes a lot of sense to come to a commercial arrangement with the major player in Australia.

Any new orders at Farnborough this year?



A380 wings will require an eight week fix

10 June 2012

Flight Global reports that the permanent replacement to the A380 wing cracks will require an eight-week repair downtime for each airplane.

Airbus confirmed that if airlines choose to undertake the repair "nose-to-tail" it will require around eight weeks to implement. However Airbus says that it expects most operators would opt to adopt the phased approach spread out over three two-year heavy checks which is less disruptive. In this case, it expects the repair would extend each two-to-three week heavy check by "a few days".

Emirates, which is the biggest A380 operator with 21 in service, will undertake the repair to each aircraft in one installment. It says the work will require 30,000 man-hours to implement. The Emirates fleet will be repaired in Airbus facilities or by other organisations on Airbus's behalf because the Dubai carrier does not have the capacity to undertake the work in house.

The retrofit modification will be subject to an airworthiness directive from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which Airbus expects to be issued this summer. It will be available for retrofit in the first quarter of next year.

A modification for new-build aircraft will become available for incorporation on the wing production line at the end of this year. There is an approximately 10-month lead-time on the wing, meaning that this will apply to A380s delivered from early 2014.

Airbus says that it expects that most A380 operators receiving new A380s in 2013 will opt to have their wings repaired during final assembly, resulting in a four-to-six week delay. However some airlines with a more urgent need for their aircraft will decide to have the work carried out retrospectively, it adds.

The question is what does this mean for EK's delivery schedule? Emirates 22nd A380 - A6-EDV was ready for delivery in April but is still in Toulouse; as is the 23rd - A6-EDW.

All but one of EK's 21 A380s has completed temporary repairs. But now they will each have to be rostered out of service for eight weeks towards the end of the year for the permanent fix to be undertaken. Fair to assume that Emirates are far from happy and the issue of compensation is still being discussed.

The world economy is in grave danger. A lot depends on one woman

9 June 2012 The Economist

“To the lifeboats!” That is the stark message bond markets are sending about the global economy. Investors are rushing to buy sovereign bonds in America, Germany and a dwindling number of other “safe” economies. When people are prepared to pay the German government for the privilege of holding its two-year paper, and are willing to lend America’s government funds for a decade for a nominal yield of less than 1.5%, they either expect years of stagnation and deflation or are terrified of imminent disaster. Whichever it is, something is very wrong with the world economy.

That something is a combination of faltering growth and a rising risk of financial catastrophe. Economies are weakening across the globe. The recessions in the euro zone’s periphery are deepening. Three consecutive months of feeble jobs figures suggest America’s recovery may be in trouble (see article). And the biggest emerging markets seem to have hit a wall. Brazil’s GDP is growing more slowly than Japan’s. India is a mess (see article). Even China’s slowdown is intensifying. A global recovery that falters so soon after the previous recession points towards widespread Japan-style stagnation.

But that looks like a good outcome when set beside the growing danger of a fracturing of the euro. The European Union, the world’s biggest economic area, could plunge into a spiral of bank busts, defaults and depression—a financial calamity to dwarf the mayhem unleashed by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. The possibility of a Greek exit from the euro after its election on June 17th, the deterioration of Spain’s banking sector and the rapid disintegration of Europe’s cross-border capital flows have all increased this danger (see article). And this time it will be harder to counter. In 2008 central bankers and politicians worked together to prevent a depression. Today the politicians are all squabbling. And even though the technocrats at the central banks could (and should) do more, they have less ammunition at their disposal.

Nobody wants to test these various disaster scenarios. It is now up to Europe’s politicians to deal finally and firmly with the euro. If they come up with a credible solution, it does not guarantee a smooth ride for the world economy; but not coming up with a solution guarantees an economic tragedy. To an astonishing degree, the fate of the world economy depends on Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel (see article).

In one way it seems unfair to pick on Mrs Merkel. Politicians everywhere are failing to act—from Delhi, where reform has stalled, to Washington, where partisan paralysis threatens a lethal combination of tax increases and spending cuts at the end of the year. Within Europe, as Germans never cease to point out, investors are not worried about Mrs Merkel’s prudent government, whose predecessor restructured the economy painfully ten years ago; the problem is a loss of confidence in less well-run, unreformed countries.

But do not get too sympathetic. To begin with, past virtue counts for little at the moment: if the euro collapses, then Germany will suffer hugely. The downgrading of some of its banks this week was a portent of that. Moreover, the undoubted mistakes in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain and the other debtor countries have been compounded over the past three years by errors in Europe’s creditor countries. The overwhelming focus on austerity; the succession of half-baked rescue plans; the refusal to lay out a clear path for the fiscal and banking integration that is needed for the single currency to survive: these too are reasons why the euro is so close to catastrophe. And since Germany has largely determined this response, most of the blame belongs in Berlin.

Outside Germany, a consensus has developed on what Mrs Merkel must do to preserve the single currency. It includes shifting from austerity to a far greater focus on economic growth; complementing the single currency with a banking union (with euro-wide deposit insurance, bank oversight and joint means for the recapitalisation or resolution of failing banks); and embracing a limited form of debt mutualisation to create a joint safe asset and allow peripheral economies the room gradually to reduce their debt burdens. This is the refrain from Washington, Beijing, London and indeed most of the capitals of the euro zone. Why hasn’t the continent’s canniest politician sprung into action?

Her critics cite timidity—and they are right on one count. Mrs Merkel has still never really explained to the German people that they face a choice between a repugnant idea (bailing out their undeserving peers) and a ruinous reality (the end of the euro). One reason why so many Germans oppose debt mutualisation is because they (wrongly) imagine the euro could survive without it. Yet Mrs Merkel also has a braver twin-headed strategy. She believes, first, that her demands for austerity and her refusal to bail out her peers are the only ways to bring reform in Europe; and, second, that if disaster really strikes, Germany could act quickly to save the day.

The first gamble can certainly claim some successes, notably the removal of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and the passage, across southern Europe, of reforms that would recently have seemed unthinkable. But the costs of this strategy are rising fast. The recessions spawned by excessive austerity are rendering it self-defeating. Across much of Europe debt burdens are rising, along with the appeal of political extremes. The uncertainty caused by the muddle-through approach is draining investors’ confidence and increasing the risk of a euro disaster.

As for Germany’s idea that it could all be saved at the last minute, by, for instance, the European Central Bank (ECB) flooding a country with liquidity, that looks risky. Were Spain to see a full-scale bank run, even an emboldened Mrs Merkel might not be able to stop it. If Greece falls out, yes, the German public would be more convinced that sinners would be punished; but, as this newspaper has argued before, a “Grexit” would cause carnage in Greece and contagion around Europe. Throughout this crisis, Mrs Merkel has refused to come up with a plan bold enough to stun the markets into submission, in the same way that America’s TARP programme did.

In short, even if her strategy has paid some dividends, its cost has been ruinous and it has run its course. She needs to lay out a clear plan for the single currency, at the latest by the European summit on June 28th, earlier if Greece’s election spreads panic. It must be specific enough to dispel all doubt about Germany’s commitment to saving the euro. And it must include immediate downpayments on deeper integration, such as a pledge to use joint funds to recapitalise Spanish banks.

This would risk losing her support at home. Yet with these risks comes the possibility of rapid reward. Once Germany’s commitment to greater integration is clear, the ECB would have the room to act more robustly—both to buy many more sovereign bonds and to provide a bigger backstop for banks. With the fear of calamity diminished, a vicious cycle would become virtuous as investors’ confidence recovered.

The world economy would still have to grapple with ineptitude elsewhere and with weak growth. But it would have taken a giant step back from disaster. Mrs Merkel, it’s up to you.

Spain next in line for mega bail-out

10 June 2012

This is hardly a surprise - the only surprise is that they have waited so long to ask. And that is the trouble with the Euro-crisis. It seems to last forever.

Spain is now requesting European aid for its ailing banks to forestall worsening market turmoil, becoming the fourth and biggest country to seek assistance since the euro zone's debt crisis began.

The move comes after Fitch Ratings slashed Madrid's sovereign credit rating by three notches to BBB from A on Thursday, highlighting Spain's exposure to its banks' bad property loans and to contagion from Greece's debt crisis.

"The government of Spain has realised the seriousness of their problem," a senior German official said.

He may be delusional. The Spanish are a little like the Greeks. Spain needs money, but doesn't know how much, and denies it's a rescue. Which, of course, it is.

He added that an agreement had to be reached before a Greek general election on June 17 which could lead to Athens leaving the euro zone if parties opposed to the terms of an EU/IMF bailout win.

Fitch said the cost to the Spanish state of recapitalising banks stricken by the bursting of a real estate bubble, recession and mass unemployment could be between 60 and 100 billion euros ($75 and $125 billion).

Spain's aid of as much as €100bn adds to €386bn in pledges to Greece, Ireland and Portugal that European govts and IMF have made since 2010.

The European Commission and EU paymaster Germany both agreed in principle last week that Spain should be given an extra year to bring its budget deficit down below the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product because of a deep recession.

Dubai's cultural dreams may need reality check

9 June 2012 Reuters

As the Gulf Arab state has made progress on restructuring its debt and an improving economy is boosting its fiscal position, th e government in recent m o nths has revived a host of projects put on hold after the property market collapse and subsequent debt crisis in 2009.

Plans to build a waterway that would enable residents in an upscale residential area of the city to sail to work in the business district by yacht are also back on the agenda. Other projects mooted by the government include the world's largest animal safari park and the biggest amusement park.

Whether all these projects actually come to fruition remains to be seen, however.

The city that boasts man-made islands shaped like palms and an indoor ski slope is never short of ideas, but conditions for building are still far tougher than during the boom years of 2002-08 as a near four-year property glut is hampering growth.

The emirate is still trying to rebuild credibility with investors who fled after state-owned conglomerate Dubai World shook markets in 2009 with a $25 billion debt restructuring plan.

"These Dubai projects that are a bit more adventurous or over the top will probably never get the funding. It's all about funding these days and investors will think before putting their money behind such plans," said a Dubai-based economist, who did not wish to be named.

State-backed entities led by Dubai World have made headway on securing debt deals with creditors and healthy demand in April for the state's first sovereign bond issue in nearly a year suggested investor confidence in Dubai is on an upward trend. But going off on a spending spree again is unlikely to reassure.

"It is true that Dubai should be using its resources to repay its huge debt," said a Dubai-based property analyst, who did not wish to be named.

"However, another way to look at it is that Dubai has to continue building its business ... and its best chance of growth is to build its tourism business."

The underwater hotel will be built by Drydocks World, a shipbuilding unit of Dubai World and which is itself restructuring $2.2 billion in debt, which it hopes will be completed by July.

The project is similar to an undersea project to build a 250-300-suite hotel and resort announced in 2006, known as Hydropolis, which was shelved after the debt crisis.

The latest version will be built in partnership with a Swiss firm, Big Invest Consult AG, which will arrange financing for the project, the companies said in April. The project is at the design stage and will commence only after financing is secured.

"Even if this underwater hotel project never goes ahead (which would not be unusual) in Dubai ... it is still good publicity for brand Dubai," said Filippo Sona, head of hotels and resorts for the Middle East and North Africa at property consultants Colliers International.

"It looks like Dubai is back in business and pumping away."

Extravagant projects were the hallmark of Dubai during the 2002-2008 boom years when the emirate attracted global attention with man-made islands shaped in a map of the world and constructed the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa tower, as well as what it bills as the largest shopping mall in the world, with an Olympic-size ice skating rink.

After the debt crisis hit, spending on infrastructure projects fell sharply. Last year it dropped 20 percent to 7.1 billion UAE dirhams ($1.9 billion), half the level seen in 2008.

But conditions are improving. Dubai house prices may finally stop falling this year after losing nearly two-thirds of their value since 2008, a Reuters poll shows, although oversupply will continue to dog the market for some time.

The emirate's economy grew 3.4 percent last year on strong trade flows and as its safe-haven status during the Arab Spring revolts elsewhere in the Middle East boosted tourism and capital inflows, helping cut the government's budget deficit to 3.7 billion dirhams ($1 billion).

Passenger numbers at Dubai's main airport surged 14 percent in January-April this year from a year earlier and the government targets 4.5 percent economic growth for 2012.

However, revenues are still shaky and the government cannot afford to spend on projects that don't generate a decent return.

"I would imagine that Dubai has learnt its lessons and is now putting more attention on sustainability," said Fabio Scacciavillani, chief economist at Oman Investment Fund in Muscat.

"Projects like the opera house and other public projects are only beneficial if they generate revenue. If they are just extravagant ventures with an uncertain stream of revenue, then the question is how would they pay for it."

The opera house and museum project is a revival of a pre-crisis scheme to build a dune-shaped opera house and cultural centre, designed by British architect Zaha Hadid, on an island in Dubai Creek. That was shelved as its struggling developer, Sama Dubai, slashed projects in 2009.

The government has not said how much the new complex, to be built in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa tower and include an opera house, modern art museum, two hotels and residential housing, w i ll cost, nor how it will be funded or who will design it. The city's designs on becoming a cultural hub could put it in competition with Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates' capital city, which rode to Dubai's rescue at the height of its debt crisis, throwing it a $10 billion lifeline.

The capital is building branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums as part of a $27 billion cultural project aimed at making Abu Dhabi a culture capital for the region.

Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi has oil wealth to spend on such projects. But progress on this project has not been smooth. Completion is taking far longer than planned and more than 130 artists last year pledged to boycott the complex over what they said was exploitation of foreign workers, according to Human Rights Watch.

How English football came unstuck

9 June 2012 By Mihir Bose for the Financial Times

English football likes to see itself as occupying a high moral plain. It also enjoys the praise sometimes lavished on the English game by footballers from more successful nations. At the beginning of the season Uwe Rosler, the former German international now managing Brentford, told me “In my four and a half years I learnt that English football is honest. In Germany sometimes you went down and tried to get a free kick. It was natural and we called it clever play. When I came to Manchester City I did it once or twice. The manager, Brian Horton, and the players came to me and said very clearly, ‘You do that not one more time’. There was a sense of justice in the group.”

Given that England, despite inventing the game, has won nothing since the 1966 World Cup this could be some solace. The fans can say: “We may not win, but we uphold the principles of fair play.” It also fits in with the general national attitude. Despite having had the greatest empire in the world, from which it derived vast benefits, this country – or at least its historians – likes to dwell on the benefits the empire brought to millions and how it was a moral force for the good. Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evoked such moral sentiments.

Yet as the European championships start in Poland and Ukraine surely the most distressing thing for England’s fans should be not so much the team’s dire prospects but that England’s vaunted moral position has come unstuck; and this is on an issue where English football felt it had led the way for Europe. The irony here cannot be overemphasised.
Until the beginning of the season racism in football was a scourge England could boast they had dealt with. Poland and Ukraine may have fans that subject black players to racist abuse and monkey chants but England could claim it knew how to solve the problem.

Then we had Liverpool’s Luis Suárez found guilty of directing racist abuse at Patrice Evra of Manchester United. Liverpool players reacted by refusing to accept this and Mr Suárez refused to shake the hand of Mr Evra when the two teams met in a return match.

This resurfacing of racism was considered so serious that there was a conference chaired by the prime minister to discuss race in football. However at that stage it seemed as if this was a containable issue with the FA giving every impression that they were dealing with the problem. Unfortunately its handling of the John Terry case has completely exposed its position.

This was an issue that football should have dealt with long before the Euros. In October, footage emerged of an exchange between John Terry, then the England captain, and Anton Ferdinand in a match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea. But it was not until February when a date was fixed for the court hearing of Mr Terry’s charge for aggravated racist behaviour – which he denies – that the FA acted. With the hearing set for the week after the end of the Euros, the FA removed him as captain. That decision led to Fabio Capello resigning as manager but still left open the question of whether Mr Terry should be selected. The FA left the manager to decide. How big a hole the FA had dug for itself became evident when Mr Capello’s replacement Roy Hodgson decided he would take Mr Terry to the Euros but not Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother.

Mr Ferdinand and Mr Terry have been at the centre of the English defence for nearly a decade and, ironically, Mr Terry got his chance at Euro 2004 when Mr Ferdinand was banned for missing a drug test. Mr Hodgson justified his decision on football grounds. The implication was that Mr Terry’s performance this season has been clearly better than Mr Ferdinand’s.

However, as the replacements for Mr Ferdinand got injured and he was still not called up, with Mr Hodgson preferring relatively inexperienced players, the impression created was that Mr Hodgson’s real reason was he could not have the two men in the same dressing room. In other words Rio Ferdinand had suffered collateral damage for what Mr Terry may or may not have said to his younger brother.

Even before this decision many in the game from a minority background were upset by the FA’s handling of the case. In February, soon after Mr Terry was stripped of his captaincy, I spoke to Chris Powell, the Charlton boss and one of only two black managers in the professional leagues. He said: “It should have happened straightaway back in October. They shouldn’t have waited this long. It’s just carried on and it’s going to carry on now well into the summer.”

His words have proved prescient. Now many, and not just from ethnic minorities, believe the FA drew an unnecessary and ridiculous distinction between captaincy and player when they stripped Mr Terry of the former. The decision also set the FA apart from what would be considered normal practice in most organisations. Elsewhere, an employee facing such a charge would be suspended on full pay without any admission of guilt.

That the FA failed to do so showed that for all the talk of football being run like a business it remains at heart a cottage industry. When the issue at stake has broad resonance such as race, the game’s lack of governance is exposed. And of course it makes pretensions to moral high ground ridiculous. One can only hope that the national team will now perform on the field and fans will not have to turn to considering morality for redemption.

My big fat Greek divorce

8 June 2012 How and whether Greece might exit is the biggest and fattest uncertainty of all
The Economist

On June 17th the brinkmanship on the Aegean will take another twist. Even if the New Democracy party manages to form a government it will seek to renegotiate the terms set earlier this year by European creditor nations for Greece’s second bail-out. If instead the victor is Syriza, the left-of-centre group bent on scrapping the deal, the markets fear that this will lead ineluctably to Greece leaving the euro and inflicting heavy collateral damage on the rest of the euro zone on the way. But there is nothing automatic about the precise timing and mechanism of a “Grexit”.

If Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, were unilaterally to announce a debt moratorium, as he has threatened to do, then this would almost certainly precipitate a swift exit. All bail-out funds would be cut off. With Greece defaulting on its debt, the European Central Bank (ECB) would no longer be prepared to permit the provision of liquidity for Greece’s tottering banks. If the Bank of Greece did not comply with the ECB’s ruling, Greece could in the last resort be cut off from the euro zone’s payments system, points out Malcolm Barr, an economist at JPMorgan. The Greek government would have to reintroduce the drachma, which would immediately plunge in value against the euro.

But Mr Tsipras would have to form a coalition and would be constrained by his partners. And he has not campaigned to leave the euro, which remains popular in Greece. He is calculating that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will blink at the prospect of the wider costs of a Greek exit. He believes that she will not want to be seen as forcing Greece out of the euro, not least since on strict legal grounds a country can neither leave nor be forced to leave the currency union.

Even a Syriza victory will thus probably lead in the first place to negotiations. While these are taking place, there would be no bail-out money to fill the hole in Greece’s primary budget (ie, excluding interest). But Greece would still need funding to avoid default, since it must also service debt and redeem maturing bonds, notably one held by the ECB due to be repaid in August. One suggestion is that the Europeans could channel bail-out financing to meet such payments through the “escrow account”, a segregated account at the Bank of Greece set up as part of the second bail-out to ensure that Greece honours its debts. A precedent for this was set in May, after the first inconclusive election, when a payment of €4.2 billion ($5.3 billion) was made to Greece, most of which went to cover another maturing bond held by the ECB.

Even if this tortuous routing of European bail-out money to the ECB helped avoid an immediate default, any new Greek government would face huge strains. When the second rescue was approved, Greece looked close to balancing its primary budget. In March the IMF envisaged a 2012 deficit of just €2 billion (1% of GDP) and a surplus of €3.7 billion in 2013. But such forecasts have been overtaken by events. Fearing the worst, the Greeks are holding back on taxes (revenues were €495m below target in the first four months of 2012) and the government is postponing payments to suppliers.

Some economists think that Greece could nonetheless avoid a sudden departure from the euro. The government could pay some of its bills by issuing its own IOUs direct to its domestic creditors. These notes (“scrip”) would start to circulate at a steep discount to euros. In effect, argues Thomas Mayer, an adviser to Deutsche Bank, Greece could create its own parallel and depreciated currency while still remaining in the monetary union.

Something similar happened in Argentina as it struggled to retain its rigid link between the peso and the dollar before the link eventually snapped in early 2002. Bankrupt regional governments started to pay their workers in scrip, such as the patacones issued by Buenos Aires Province. But these desperate measures were desperately unpopular because the patacones immediately fell in value. Within just a few months, the Argentine government restricted withdrawals of bank deposits, defaulted on its debts and broke the link with the dollar, allowing the peso to devalue.

Mario Blejer, who was Argentina’s central-bank governor in the middle of the crisis, says that resorting to scrip would be even worse than creating a new currency outright (which he thinks would be disastrous). It would create monetary chaos and generate inflationary pressure before the exit that would inevitably ensue.

Any negotiations between Mr Tsipras and Greece’s creditors may in any case be short-circuited. Greece’s bank run could turn into a sprint after the election, making the country ever more reliant on the ECB for emergency funding. If the condition for further support is compliance with the terms of the bail-out, then it may be Mr Tsipras who blinks after all. If he doesn’t, then Greece could indeed leave the euro in a rush after the election.

Thai Democracy Tested as Judges Battle Thaksin

6 June 2012 Bloomberg

Thailand’s ruling party warned democracy is under threat as its highest court moves to stop lawmakers from changing the constitution in a country that has suffered 18 coup attempts in the past eight decades.

The Constitutional Court has no right to prevent Parliament from voting on an amendment that would create a new body to rewrite the charter, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung told reporters yesterday. A judicial challenge to the legislators’ efforts could lead to the disbanding of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s party, the third time courts have disqualified elected allies of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra since he was ousted by the military six years ago.

“Did they fall asleep and didn’t know we got our power from the election?” Chalerm said, referring to judges on the nine-member Constitutional Court. “Don’t go too far. This is too much and no one can accept this.”

The dispute risks reigniting street protests pitting Thaksin supporters who have won five straight elections against opponents who accuse him of undermining the monarchy and subverting the legal system to allow his return from exile. Thai stocks dropped to a four-month low as consumer confidence fell for the first time in half a year in May because of escalating political strains and higher costs for food and oil.

“Rising political tension has significantly weakened sentiment in the Thai stock market, which has already been hurt by European debt concerns,” Thongmakut Thongyai, chief executive officer of SCB Securities Co., a brokerage unit of Siam Commercial Bank Pcl, the country’s third biggest. “The government will now focus on resolving the political deadlock rather than on economic policies.”

The SET Index gained 1.1 percent as of 10:09 a.m. local time, rising in line with regional peers. It has fallen 9.4 percent over the past month, more than benchmarks in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore.

Overseas investors sold a net 1.32 billion baht ($41.8 million) of Thai stocks yesterday, extending net sales this month to $66.7 million. An index measuring consumer sentiment fell to 67.1 in May from 67.5 in April, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce said yesterday.

The Constitutional Court ordered Parliament last week to stop considering an amendment that would establish a 99-member body to rewrite the constitution drafted by an army-appointed panel after the coup. The Pheu Thai party won a majority in last July’s elections after campaigning on changing the document to make it harder to disband political parties. It also sought to curtail the power of appointed judges, soldiers and bureaucrats.

The court accepted petitions arguing that the process violated Article 68 of the constitution, which restricts attempts “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.” The clause allows judges to disband political parties that contravene the stipulation.

The court can accept petitions directly as well as from the Attorney General, Pimol Thampitakpong, a spokesman for the Constitutional Court, said by phone, dismissing criticism from Pheu Thai lawmakers who accused the judges of acting improperly in taking up the case. Prosecutors will start a separate investigation, Vinai Dumrongmongcolgul, a spokesman for the Attorney General, told reporters yesterday.

The judges wants lawmakers to provide “a promise to the public” in clarifying whether plans to rewrite the constitution will change articles related to the monarchy, court President Wasan Soypisudh said on June 3. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 84, took the throne in 1946 and serves as head of state. Insulting him can lead to a 15-year jail sentence.

“This will ensure that the constitutional amendments will not go too far,” Wasan said. “We need to investigate this to balance the power.”

Robert Amsterdam, one of Thaksin’s lawyers, released a paper yesterday arguing for the impeachment of Constitutional Court judges. The country can’t have rule of law “so long as the country’s highest court is composed of judges who make so little pretense of independence and impartiality, and act with such blatant disregard for the Constitution they are sworn to uphold,” according to a statement on his website.

In an interview last week, Yingluck asserted Parliament’s legitimacy to decide how to rectify injustices since the coup, including on bills that may provide an amnesty for Thaksin, who has lived overseas since fleeing a two-year jail sentence in 2008. Lawmakers postponed deliberation on the bills last week after his opponents blocked entrances to the building.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva pushed for the government to end the parliamentary session, telling a broadcaster affiliated with his party that the constitution changes and laws dealing with political offenses are not urgent issues. “We should delay them and the government can go back to solving the economic and cost-of-living problems.”

The judiciary has played a leading role in determining Thai political outcomes since 2006, when King Bhumibol called on judges to resolve a pending constitutional crisis. Since then, courts voided an election won by Thaksin’s party, disqualified about 200 politicians linked to him, sentenced him to jail and seized 46 billion baht ($1.5 billion) of his wealth.

The Constitutional Court will probably try to win assurances in writing that Pheu Thai has no plans to change articles affecting the monarchy or the independence of the judiciary, said Kaewsan Atipho, a member of a panel that investigated Thaksin after the coup and supports the court’s actions.

The political maneuverings “are like a poker game where everybody has a gun in their pocket,” Kaewsan said. “Thai society is the loser.”

Thaksin’s opponents, known as the Yellow Shirts, seized government buildings and airports in 2008, ending their protests when a court disbanded his ruling party for election fraud, paving the way for Abhisit to take power. The group accused Thaksin of seeking to reduce the power of the king, whom the constitution says “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship.’

Thaksin’s supporters, the Red Shirts, began large-scale demonstrations after Abhisit became prime minister, with some factions pushing to change laws that shield the king from criticism. The group’s protests in 2010 ended in a military assault, arson attacks and more than 90 deaths.

Another ‘‘judicial coup” may take place before street protests spin out of control, a possible pretext for another military intervention, according to Paul Chambers, director of research at the Southeast Asian Institute of Global Studies at Payap University in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand.

“If things continue as they are right now, then Yingluck’s days are numbered,” he said. “If Pheu Thai steps back and ends the attempts to change the constitution, then Yingluck can stay in office perhaps until her term is over.”

Tweeting the RJ concert

5 June 2012

Best discovery from the #jubileeconcert last night - Lang Lang is not a Giant Panda.....

Elgar and Fireworks - made for eachother !

Confession - "Land of Hope and Glory" gives me goosebumps ! Really do need to change the national anthem !

With David Bowie or getting a new dress. after Derby Day....RT @mikeantwerp: BTW where’s Katherine Jenkins?

When I find myself in times of trouble.......

Madness on the roof of Buck House - who would have adam and eved it ?

RT ‏@Queen_UK

Our American cousins seem consistently confused between a birthday and a jubilee #getyourownqueen #jubileeconcert

RT ‏@Queen_UK
This is a song about Cameron and Clegg. #twolittleboys #jubileeconcert

no no no no no no no - not rolf harris singing - mute mute mute mute - #jubileeconcert

@mipesom @mikeantwerp You are both too young to remember Live Aid - that was how to do these concerts properly....

@mipesom Germans with a bit of Greek blood and living in Windsor - all a bit ironic really !

.@mipesom must be upset cos Kraftwerk were not invited ! @mikeantwerp

Where is David Bowie - come to that where is Sting - dont they normally turn out for these events ? #jubileeconcert

Elton John bringing new meaning to Pretty in Pink !!

Please - no tv pictures from the royal box - charles looks miserable even watching kylie....#jubileeconcert

I must be getting old - more Shirley Bassey and less Kylie please ! #jubileeconcert

RT @lorrainemccann1: Nothing says party like a singalong to a song which a woman is stabbed to death by an abusive partner.

@mikeantwerp It is very strange - but reading the twitter commentary makes it so much more entertaining !!

@mikeantwerp Annie Lennox still has it - Ms Jones just weird - and Rolf Harris has to be there as Edna Everage couldn't make it !

Celebrating ten years

2 June 2012

On June 1 2002 this web site started with a picture of a gorgeous red sunset over the skyline of Hong Kong.

It started as part of my education. Build a website; learn a little about the technology. It also started because I have always liked to write. And I have always liked to follow and try to understand the news.

The site started before blogging had been heard of. It does not use a blog host so it is not as interactive as newer web sites. But there is a tagboard for comments; there is also a page where comments may be left for me.

So the web site developed into a commentary on events and subjects that interested me. It developed with the AOB pages into something of a personal diary.  It has allowed me to provide links to other web sites that are of interest to me and hopefully to my readers. It has allowed me to document personal and international events from the last ten years.

It has allowed me to say thank you to people who have influenced and changed my life for the better. It allowed me to say thank you to my Dad; something I did not do enough when he was alive.

It has allowed me to document my life in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Dubai.

It acts as a link to my other internet activities - from facebook to a large gallery of photographs.

It may be a bit self indulgent; it may not be read by many people; it may be time consuming. And yes it probably should all be written in something other than MS FrontPage.

But it is mine. The site and I have grown up together.


Ottawa's big A380 day

2 June 2012 - Source Ottawa Citizen and Airliners

Spotters and avgeeks were beside themselves with excitement yesterday as an Emirates A380 made its first ever visit to the capital's airport.

Flight UAE241 carried more than 530 passengers, and was originally scheduled to land at Pearson International Airport at 6:45 p.m. before being rerouted because of wind and torrential rains.

The weather in Toronto has been really bad for the whole day and the approach was made after few holdings on R/W 15R. It went around at short finals due to windshear warning (as told to ATC). After the GA, they requested a R/W 05 approach which was denied by ATC. Then the diversion to Ottawa was declared and was given the radar vectors.

However, the pilots called in a Mayday to flight traffic controllers at Ottawa’s Macdonald-Cartier International Airport shortly before 5 p.m. and made an emergency landing at about 5:30 p.m. The plane departed about two hours later at 7:50 p.m. after being refuelled. It was expected to arrive in Toronto two hours after its originally scheduled touchdown.

Officials blamed a day-long downpour in the Toronto area for the flight diversion, pointing out that the rain has caused havoc at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, including the rerouting of the Emirates flight.

“It’s been a difficult day for operations,” said spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority “A few flights have had delays.”

One of those flights was UAE241. Flight data from the website flightaware.ca shows the Airbus A380 circling several times over Toronto before heading to Ottawa.

The pilots requested an emergency landing because the airliner was running low on fuel. Ottawa firefighters and paramedics responded to the call. This is standard practice for any emergency situation.

The Emirates Airlines flight was the first A380 to land at Ottawa International Airport.

60 years

1 June 2012

The English monarchy means little to me. As the New Statesman wrote this week: "it seems churlish to point out that awarding great privileges and pseudo-medieval deference to members of an otherwise undistinguished Anglo-German family ill befits a nation that wants to see itself as democratic, meritocratic and modern."

But many people love the royals, they are good for tourism, they may indeed be better than an elected President in a republic and if you have to have a monarch then you may as well have a decent hard working one.

The four-day Bank Holiday gives the country the opportunity to gather together to mark the Queen's historic 60-year reign.

I can remember her Silver 25th anniversary. I was still at university. In Redbourn, where my parents lived, there was a huge Elizabethan street party. 35 years later this will be a far bigger event with three days of events.

Up to a million people are expected to line the banks of the River Thames and nearby open spaces to watch a majestic 1,000-strong flotilla sail through London on Sunday. And stars like Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John will perform at a concert on Monday day in honour of the longest reigning monarch since Queen Victoria.

Almost six million Britons plan to throw a Jubilee party this weekend, according to a study. It really is an excuse for a four day party: bunting, Pimm's and gnomes have become sell-out products as people hold outdoor parties to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

Waitrose said sales of Pimm's were up by more than 260 per cent on last year, with trifle up 28 per cent and picnic or party paperware up 182 per cent.

The DIY retailer B&Q said it had sold 100,000 metres of Union Flag bunting, 10,500 jubilee cushions and 3,100 jubilee gnomes.

Sainsbury's reported sales of 364 miles of bunting and is expecting to sell nearly 10 million servings of strawberries.

Marks & Spencer said it had sold more than 50,000 commemorative jubilee biscuit tins and 31 miles of bunting – enough to line the Mall 155 times.

The Queen's great-great-grandmother Victoria is the only other British sovereign to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee.

All the evidence suggests that Britain remains a nation which is overwhelmingly comfortable with the monarchy, and which feels that the qualities offered by a queen such as Elizabeth II are qualities which it values and would not wish to lose.

For those reasons, on the River Thames on Sunday, outside Buckingham Palace on Monday; at St Paul's Cathedral and along the route back to the Palace on Tuesday, and at countless street parties and beacon lightings, Britain will reaffirm its commitment and gratitude to its Queen. Across the commonwealth there will also be events and tributes.

And in all honesty the Queen has given sixty years of remarkable service to her country. Not all her family are quite such shining successes but the crown does appear to be in capable hands.

A special visual tribute will see Diamond Jubilee Beacons light up the night sky across the UK on Monday, with more than 4,000 expected to be lit in the UK and across the Commonwealth.

A St Paul's Cathedral service of thanksgiving will be the highlight of Tuesday, ending with the Queen appearing on Buckingham Palace's balcony to acknowledge the tens of thousands expected to fill The Mall. There will be a fly-past at 3.30pm UK time.

Prime Minister David Cameron, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and other senior royals will join prominent individuals from the UK and abroad at many of the events.

The celebrations begin with the Queen enjoying her traditional outing to the Epsom Derby. As a passionate horse breeder, she rarely misses the famous race meeting and will take her usual place in the Royal Box to study the form - but we are told (with some scepticism) that she does not bet.

The Thames River Pageant takes place on Sunday. The 1,000 boats will be led by the “herald barge” which will carry eight newly cast giant bells — each one named after a senior member of the royal family.

The bells of the churches along the Thames will reply to the peal sounded by the barge as it sails downriver.

Next in line will be Gloriana, the £1.5 million rowbarge gifted to the Queen on behalf of the nation and with a team of 18 rowers led by Olympic champions Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent.

The crew also includes three injured soldiers who were part of a six-man Row2Recovery team that rowed across the Atlantic earlier this year, Lt Will Dixon, 27, Cpl Rory Mackenzie, 30, and Cpl Neil Heritage, 31.

Also on board, but as passengers, will be Major Kate Philp, who was the first British woman soldier to lose a leg in combat when her Warrior tank ran over a bomb in Afghanistan in 2008, former royal protection officer Andrew Child and former firefighter David Melrose, who was left paralysed when a beam crashed into his back while tackling a blaze at a golf club.

The Queen will pass a guard of honour of Chelsea pensioners as she heads for the royal barge, which she will board at Cadogan Pier after setting off on the tender from the former Royal Yacht Britannia.

She will be accompanied on the royal barge by the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

A second herald barge will carry the Academy of Ancient Music, playing Handel’s Water Music. The Royal Marines herald fanfare team are next, followed by the Band of the Royal Marines, which will sail alongside dozens of Dunkirk little ships.

Others in the 10 musical barges are a pipe band, a Commonwealth chorus, the Mayor’s Jubilee band of young musicians and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which will play classic British tunes such as Jerusalem and Land Of Hope And Glory as it brings up the rear.

This is an event that the Thames has never seen before and will unlikely see again.

As for the Queen - she is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror; she has overseen 12 Prime Ministers during her reign; has attended 35 Royal Variety performances; has owned 30 corgis, starting with Susan — an 18th birthday present. She currently has three, Monty, Willow and Holly. She is the patron of 600 charities.

The threat to Thailand's internet economy

1 June 2012

Google has released a statement in English and Thai entitled “A threat to the potential of Thailand’s Internet economy” (การคุกคามต่อระบบเศรษฐกิจอินเตอร์เน็ตที่มีศักยภาพของประเทศไทย). Below are some excerpts from the statement in English:

"Today, a decision was made in a Thai courtroom that runs counter to the country’s exciting and important role in bringing a free, open and prosperous Internet to life. To summarise the case quite simply – a Thai woman who runs a website has been fined and sentenced to eight months in prison (though that sentence has been suspended) for offensive comments left on her site by users, comments that she removed once notified. Though she was only convicted on one of ten counts, convicting her for something she never wrote sends a clear message to the entrepreneurs and business leaders who run Internet platforms in Thailand that they can and will be penalized for the independent actions of users.

The precedent set by this decision is deeply concerning because Internet platforms, often referred to as ‘intermediaries’ – basically, the tools and sites many of us use every day to connect with friends, family and customers around the world, such as social networks, online marketplaces and web forums – are the foundation of the web.

Imagine if tomorrow your favorite online services decide to shut down because their owners, fearing prison time, start seeing the risks as far outweighing potential returns. We would not just lose the services we love or rely on, we would lose our ability to connect with the world, to innovate and to experience the opportunities available in countries that embrace the digital economy.

The Internet connects us and our ideas. A free and open Internet ensures that great ideas, the ones that spark innovation and have the potential to change our world for the better, have a platform to be seen, heard and shared.

Telephone companies are not penalized for things people say on the phone and responsible website owners should not be punished for comments users post on their sites. Unfortunately, Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act is being used in this case to do just that.

The Computer Crimes Act stifles innovation and deters investment in a country and a people full of potential. We understand this is not simple. It is complicated and it is often not black and white. But if there were transparent rules about how to identify and react to unlawful content, Thailand will have a more free and open Internet and in doing so, allow millions of Thais, from small business owners to students to civil servants, to connect with the world and grow the Thai economy.

Google is committed to Thailand and our Thai users. We are here for the long term. And we look forward to a future that keeps all of us connected."