2015 News Archive

New Years Eve shock in Dubai

1 January 2016

It was New Year’s Eve. Downtown was packed. Hotels, restaurants and bars were all full. The streets were closed. People everyone

Then, at about 9.30pm on New Years Eve the five star Address Downtown hotel next to the Dubai Mall caught fire.

The fire spread up across the facade of the building remarkably quickly. By 10pm the whole of the front of the hotel was ablaze.

Meanwhile at midnight the Burj Khalifa fireworks went ahead while across the Burj Lake the Address Downtown still blazed.

There are plenty of news reports on the details of the fire so I will restrict this to observations about the evening and the following day.

The following morning the Gulf News barely mentioned the fire. The front page picture was of the fireworks; the short report noted that 14 people had suffered minor injuries. “Fire at Dubai Hotel fails to dampen the enthusiasm of revellers” claimed the small sub-title.

Inside on page 5 the paper claimed that “firefighting teams managed to control 80% of the fire in a record time by 10.30pm to ensure the new year party continue.”

The Director-General of Dubai civil defence said that the fire damaged only the external interface of the hotel.

The same message was echoed in Saturday’s newspaper. With one additional casualty.

The suggestion remains that the fire originated on the 20th floor of the hotel. There have been reports that it started on a lower floor. The Saturday snapshots page show glittering fireworks pictures while carefully avoiding any pictures of smoke or flames.

At midnight the Dubai Media Office @DXBMediaOffice was tweeting as though nothing was amiss. I suspect this was the result of timed auto-tweets. Yet at the same time we had no idea if there was anyone trapped by the flames in the hotel

“Dubai’s successful New Year’s celebration is testimony to its steadfast commitment to its major projects and initiatives”
“@BurjKhalifa welcomes 2016 in magical style #MyDubaiNewYear pic.twitter.com/IdXR3XKJIw”
“#MyDubaiNewYear … Burj Khalifa kicks breath-taking firework show pic.twitter.com/OVe4TtcdfG”

If it was safer to set off the fireworks as planned then the authorities should have said so. Otherwise it looked reckless – there was a fire burning next to the tower – or callous; hundreds of people had been endangered and many others evacuated and uncertain about what to do or where to go.

There were fireworks at the Burj Al Arab and at the Atlantis Hotel. Proceeding with those made sense. Continuing with the Burj Khalifa fireworks left my friends and I feeling very uneasy.

A statement from Dubai civil defence on the afternoon of Friday January 01, 2016 stated that “cooling procedures are still underway after the blaze at The Address Downtown Dubai hotel was brought under control and prevented from spreading to other buildings.” There were still fires mid afternoon and into the evening.

The statement “praised the exceptional collaboration between all the entities that are part of the Crisis Management Committee and the extraordinary efficiency of the Dubai Civil Defence in controlling the fire and helping avoid serious injuries or causalities (sic). Four fully equipped squads from Dubai Civil Defence units were dispatched to the fire scene, while ambulance teams were rushed to provide instant medical care and first aid on site. Dubai Government responded rapidly to the incident and coordinated efforts to instantly evacuate the hotel’s guests to ensure their safety. Security forces secured the hotel’s premises and surroundings, and re-directed pedestrian traffic through alternative routes.”

The statement makes the incident sound routine; it was not. Access for emergency vehicles was near impossible with closed roads and massive crowds out to watch the NYE fireworks.

There was burning debris blowing in the wind onto adjacent rooftops. It seems that it was just luck that stopped the fire from spreading.

There are many different reports of how people escaped from the burning hotel. Were the fire alarms and sprinklers working? No clear answer. Were staff and fire marshalls directing guests and residents. Or was it a panicked free for all.

The good news is that the rear of the hotel – opening onto the Boulevard appears untouched. so the structure of the hotel remained intact and it is likely that stairwells and fire-exits were clear to allow everyone to get out of the building,

But watching from a distance it seems like a miracle that only 15 people were injured.

Our friends in the adjacent Souk al Bahar were sitting down to a romantic dinner for two as the fire broke out. They grabbed clothes and a toothbrush and came to stay in our apartment.

We walked up to the Souk al Bahar on Friday afternoon with our friends. The tower was still smoking and flames in some rooms. There were many modern fire vehicles including water tankers. But not a great deal of activity. It was more of a tourist spot for pictures to be taken.


First pictures of Dubai inferno hotel’s ravaged interior: Photos show devastation left by huge blaze as investigators probe cause of massive New Year’s Eve fire that tore through 63-storey building Daily Mail

Quick response enable Crisis Management Team in Dubai quell The Address hotel fire in record time DXB Media Office

Was Dubai’s Address Hotel Built to Burn? The Daily Beast

Dubai hotel fire: Inferno at 63-storey Address Downtown hotel near New Year’s Eve fireworks display The Telegraph

Emaar to restore fire-ravaged Address hotel to its glory Khaleej Times

Dubai hotel fire: Police release video showing rescue operations

Why did the fire spread so quickly: many (most) high-rise buildings in the UAE use external cladding panels with thermoplastic cores, i.e. panels that consist of plastic / polyurethane fillings sandwiched between aluminium sheets. Such cladding is not necessarily hazardous, but it can be flammable under certain circumstances; and (depending on a skyscraper’s design) those panels may channel fire through the window frames and thence into the interior of a building.

In 2013 the UAE revised its building safety regulations, requiring that cladding on all new buildings (those over 15 meters / 50 feet tall) be fire-resistant. However, those regulations do not apply retrospectively, i.e. they do not apply to buildings erected prior to 2013, and therein the vast majority of the UAE’s skyscrapers fall outside of those ‘new’ regulations. E.g. The Address Downtown was completed in 2008 and thus did not have to comply with the 2013 building regulations.

Koh Tao debacle: Shoddy work from beginning to end

1 January 2016 The Nation

Thailand’s ludicrous official response to the outcry at the verdict

The investigation into the murder of two British backpackers on Koh Tao was, from the very start, a muddled affair. Yet, despite public revelations of mishandling of the case by the police and widespread doubt about the guilt of the accused, the authorities were caught by surprise at the international outcry that greeted last week’s court ruling.

The sentencing to death of the accused, two Myanmar migrant workers, provoked a raucous street protest in Yangon and grumbling in Nay Pyi Taw. Irked government officials claimed the reaction was all a conspiracy to discredit the Royal Thai Police. It would be wonderful if it could be so easily imagined away.

The inescapable fact is that the controversy surrounding the Koh Tao case is only the latest global outcry directed at the Thai police force, whose reputation and credibility now seem irrevocably tainted in the eyes of most outsiders and indeed many citizens.

The Koh Tao investigation was compromised from the beginning, when police failed to properly seal off the crime scene. A rumour that the attack was carried out by someone linked to influential figures on the island was summarily dismissed and investigators quickly focused on the migrant community, refusing to even contemplate the possibility that Thais might have been involved. The police gave no explanation for this shift in focus, which saw Myanmar migrants Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun arrested and charged with the despicable crime.

Respected forensic scientist Pornthip Rojanasunand, who has clashed with law-enforcement officials in the past, was denied access to the investigators’ findings. That decision suggests that the police allowed emotion to overrule duty and professional ethics. Dr Pornthip was, however, able to testify subsequently in court that the police had failed to analyse blood found at the crime scene and might have destroyed evidence by prematurely moving the body of one victim.

More doubts were raised over the failure to run comparative DNA tests the female victim’s clothing and a hoe that was the purported murder weapon. Pornthip, acting on behalf of the defendants, conducted that test and found that the DNA on the hoe did not match that of the accused.

The court presumably attached more credence to prosecution testimony that the suspects’ semen was found on the female victim’s body, even though analysis of the DNA samples of three people was, in the view of other witnesses, done too hastily.

Most troubling of all for the police case – and for the police force’s reputation – is the fact the defendants, having withdrawn their confessions once a lawyer was belatedly provided, claimed they had admitted to the crime after being tortured. The court did not even take this point into consideration.

In spite of these many doubts and shortcomings, the national police chief, Pol Gen Jakthip Chaijinda, had the audacity to suggest that an unnamed political group had instigated the ensuing protests to discredit his men. Deputy police spokesman Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang wondered aloud why, of the 126 murder cases involving Burmese in this country in the past year, no others met with protest.

The simple answer is that none of the other cases caught the interest of the foreign press, which stemmed from the fact that the victims in this murder were citizens of Britain, where the news media are not only highly opinionated but also alert to the hazards of Thai tourism.

Moreover, the story evoked an all-too-common narrative – defenceless migrant workers becoming ready scapegoats in criminal probes and the victims of the whims of the rich and powerful. Those from Myanmar know all too well the pitfalls presented by working here, beginning with horrendous labour conditions. The protest in Yangon – which forced the Thai embassy to close out of security concerns – was at core an expression of anger over Thai attitudes and behaviour towards their countrymen.

In what can only be viewed as a bid to save face, Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan ordered a hunt for the “masterminds” behind the protest rallies in Myanmar and Thailand. Rather than making matters worse, he should be pushing for a reform of the police force.

Debating the UAE’s future

20 December 2015

In 2014 entrepreneur, author, and Arab Spring activist Iyad el-Baghdadi was expelled from the UAE – he now lives in Oslo. His commentary on Middle East issues is often compelling.

He recently wrote an article for the International Business Times discussing the future direction of his birth-country. It is too provocative to republish here; at least for now. But here is a link to the article.

This should be part of a debate held between all the stakeholders who have committed to the future of the UAE. I know second and thrd generation residents (non Emiratis) who have built business here yet who still re-apply for their two year work visas. They can be removed from the country at any time.

I do think there has to come a time when non-Emiratis are given a greater opportunity to participate in the nation that so many already call home; citizenship; permanent residence; representation. I think that will create a sustainable, dynamic nation. But it will be a big step.

Then and now – Watford FC

18 December 2015

Sunday night’s entertainment sees Watford FC entertaining Liverpool, quite a well known football team from the north west of England. Which is as good a reason as any to remember a famous day in May 1983.

Watford were in their first ever season in what was then the old first division. If we beat Liverpool (who finished as champions) in our last game of the season we could finish second.

Martin Patching, with his dodgy knees, scored our first. Luther Blissett got the second after half time. Craig Johnston pulled one back for Liverpool.

There were over 27,000 crammed into Vicarage Road – including me! We finished second – qualified for Europe and had to get our atlases out to find Kaiserslauten.

It was glorious, boisterous, exhilarating fun. More of the same this Sunday would be welcome!
Teams from that day:

Watford: Sherwood; Rice, Rostron, Patching, Sims, Franklin, Callaghan, Blissett, Barnes, Jackett, Sterling.
Liverpool: Grobbelaar; Neal, Kennedy, Lawrenson, Thompson, Hansen, Dalglish, Lee, Hodgson, Johnston, Souness.

This was the Watford squad at the end of the 1982/1983 season.

No. Position Player
England GK Steve Sherwood
England GK Eric Steele
England DF Ian Bolton
England DF Paul Franklin
England DF Richard Jobson
England DF Charlie Palmer
England DF Neil Price
England DF Wilf Rostron
England DF Steve Sims
England DF Steve Terry
Wales DF Kenny Jackett

No. Position Player
Northern Ireland DF Pat Rice
England MF John Barnes
England MF Nigel Callaghan
England MF Martin Patching
England MF Les Taylor
Netherlands MF Jan Lohman
England FW Luther Blissett
England FW Jimmy Gilligan
England FW Ross Jenkins
England FW David Johnson
Northern Ireland FW Gerry Armstrong
22 players – 20 English, 1 Welsh and 1 Dutch.

How the top flight of English football has changed in the last thirty years: the 2015/2016 squad follows – as in December 2015 before the mid season transfer window:

No. Player Born Int No. Player Born Int
1 Heurelho Gomes Brazil Brazil 21 Ikechi Anya Scotland Scotland
2 Allan Nyom France Cameroon 22 Almen Abdi Yugoslavia Switzerland
3 Miguel Britos Uruguay 23 Ben Watson England England
4 Gabriele Angella Italy Italy 24 Odion Ighalo Nigeria Nigeria
5 Sebastian Prödl Austria Austria 25 José Holebas West Germany Greece
6 Joel Ekstrand Sweden Sweden 26 Bernard Mensah England
7 José Manuel Jurado Spain Spain 27 Essaïd Belkalem Algeria Algeria
8 Valon Behrami Yugoslavia Switzerland 28 Connor Smith Ireland Ireland
9 Troy Deeney England 29 Étienne Capoue France France
10 Obbi Oularé Belgium Belgium 30 Jorell Johnson England
13 Rene Gilmartin Ireland Ireland 31 Tommie Hoban England Ireland
14 Juan Carlos Paredes Ecuador Ecuador 32 Alessandro Diamanti Italy Italy
15 Craig Cathcart Northern Ireland Northern Ireland 33 Lloyd Dyer England
16 Nathan Aké Netherlands Netherlands 34 Giedrius Arlauskis Lithuania Lithuania
17 Adlène Guedioura France Algeria 35 Josh Doherty Northern Ireland Northern Ireland
18 Daniel Pudil Czech Republic Czech Republic 36 Alex Jakubiak England Scotland
19 Victor Ibarbo Coloumbia Colombia 37 Alfie Young England
20 Steven Berghuis Netherlands Netherlands 38 Mahlondo Martin Jamaica
39 Dennon Lewis England
40 George Byers England Scotland

Thailand’s Fear of Free Speech

13 December 2015 – The New York Times Editorial Board

Since it seized power in a military coup in 2014, Thailand’s military junta, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has become increasingly obsessed with controlling public debate. This reached absurd proportions on Wednesday, when the Thai police announced they were investigating United States Ambassador Glyn Davies for possible violation of the country’s lèse-majesté laws that make royal insult a crime.

The investigation focuses on remarks Mr. Davies made last month reiterating the United States’ concern about efforts by the junta to curb free speech, specifically the “lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences” given to civilians by Thai military courts for violating the same lèse-majesté laws. The government should know that its decision to investigate Mr. Davies only confirms the truth of what he said.

And there is no way his well-founded criticism of the draconian efforts to curb freedom of expression can be construed as insulting to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In fact, Mr. Davies praised the king in his remarks. But the king is 88 and ailing, and the junta appears intent on maintaining an iron grip at least until after a royal succession.

The junta has come down hard on critics. Media outlets have been raided and journalists, along with academics and politicians, have been sent to camps for “attitude adjustment.” Some of those arrested have disappeared. People have been sentenced to decades in prison for Facebook posts, and the military apparently has plans to reduce Internet traffic to a single gateway it can control.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s once robust economy is floundering, and crime has risen sharply in Bangkok. Farmers – half the country’s population lives in rural areas – are suffering after the worst drought in decades, and a third of the country is living with water rationing.

The junta is also embroiled in a corruption scandal involving Rajabhakti Park, a lavish site it built to honor Thailand’s kings. And, on Thursday, the top investigator into Thailand’s human trafficking rings, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, announced that he had fled to Australia, where he will seek asylum. He said he feared for his safety after exposing collusion between crime syndicates and Thai authorities.

The best way for General Prayuth to calm growing public frustration, and address the legitimate concerns of the United States and other allies, is to tackle Thailand’s lagging economy, clean up corruption in the military’s ranks and make progress toward drafting a constitution and holding elections for a transition to civilian rule, as the junta has promised. Open public debate is essential to that process.

Qatar’s Miami incident – cover up, confusion and a lying CEO

13 October 2015

The preliminary report from the Qatar CAA is here :

There really is no other word for it. Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker has been lieing to the US media about the 15 September take-off incident in Miami.

Al Baker said that instructions from air traffic controllers resulted in the September runway light collision in Miami, despite evidence of confusion in the cockpit.

“It was an instruction given to our pilot by the air traffic control, which he should have refused to accept,” says Al Baker at a media event in New York today. “However, he had enough runway for getting airborne and it was only an unfortunate incident. At no time was the aircraft or the passengers put in any harms way.”

He added that “It was an instruction given to our pilot by the ATC, which he should have refused to accept.”

Al Baker’s comments differ markedly from preliminary findings from the Qatari civil aviation authority on the incident earlier in December.

Investigators found that the captain of the Qatar Boeing 777-300ER chose to depart from the T1 intersection of runway 09 at Miami International airport despite carrying out the calculations for a full-length runway departure and despite a company prohibition on intersection take offs from this runway.

Neither the captain nor the three other crew members in the cockpit realised that the T1 intersection was some 1,000m from the beginning of runway 09, leaving the 342t aircraft with only 2,610m available for the departure, the investigation found.

No where do the initial findings suggest that air traffic controllers told the pilots to take off from the T1 intersection. They do say that the first officer advised air traffic controllers that the intersection was an acceptable line-up point for take off.

ATC is not responsible for where the airliner’s captain chooses to take-of from. ATC simply acknowledged the request and expedited the departure in front of a landing aircraft.

The Qatar 777, operating flight 778, continued to Doha even after overrunning the end of runway 09 and striking the approach lights on departure.

“Such kind of incidents happen quite often, either it is a tail strike on the runway or it is contact with the landing lights,” says Al Baker. “It is nothing out of context.”

Al Akbar also said that “At no time was the aircraft or the passengers put in any harms way.” Not true – he needs to read the report.

A CEO that is willing to lie to the traveling public does little to reassure them that Qatar Air has an acceptable safety culture.

Battle of the airports: Singapore v Dubai

12 December 2015

Tai and I were back in Singapore for a day last week.

The only point of this post is to note how far ahead Singapore Airport is of any of its major hub competition.

The original Terminal One has been renovated and is in great condition. Welcoming soft coloured carpeting; plenty if space; short queues at immigration and incredibly rapid baggage delivery.

The only downside – taxi prices have increased significantly.

Dubai – Terminal One is still in appalling condition despite the attempt at renovations. It is as if the airport authority wanted to push everyone to terminal three and Emirates. Oh yes, they do!

When all passengers checking in at Terminal One have to be sent by train to the still unopened new Concourse D there is going to be a serious bottleneck for train access.

As for Terminal Three – the check in area and baggage halls are spacious albeit cold in appearance and devoid of all charm. The concourses – A, B and soon all of C – are over-run with passengers – crowded and confused. Worse – in order to extract every last $ of revenue the authority has allowed stored to be built where passengers should be able to walk. It is a planning and logistical disaster.

Baggage – my last three visits to Terminal 3 have seen my baggage arrive an hour after reaching the gate. Poor.

Taxis – queuing system is as confused as ever. Yet for most people arriving in the middle of the night this is the only way to leave the airport as teh subway is not operating overnight.

Immigration – Good at terminal three with the e-gates. But there are no e-gates in terminal one – expect long queues.

Singapore meanwhile is rushing ahead with a fourth terminal. No one could ever accuse them of complacency.

A Kingdom in Denial

12 December 2015 By Pravit Rojanaphruk Senior Staff Writer for Khaosod English

A society which does not dare look straight at itself is a society in denial.

On Dec. 1, the frontpage of International New York Times in Thailand contained a large, blank white space where there was supposed to be a news article critical of Thailand. Two sentences were printed in that space, however.

“The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand. The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal,” read the note printed in place of the news article.

Lighting struck again on Dec. 4, when a commentary on Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau and its wealth were also redacted and replaced with the same note.

(If you think those two incidents are disturbing, they are an improvement for the Thai printer, Eastern Printing, which in September just decided to not print the whole newspaper for one day due to a long, front-page article about the succession of the throne.)

I cannot really blame the Thai printer for censoring news and articles which contain a less-than-flattering mention of HRH the Crown Prince, for the printer is not alone.

When it comes to censoring even the most trivial news and information critical or negative about the monarchy, the mainstream mass media in Thailand is very efficient, though people just don’t see it.

All major Thai newspapers and TV stations subscribe to foreign news agencies such as Reuters, AFP, Associated Press or Kyodo. And every now and then there are news items or commentaries critical of Thailand’s monarchy from these foreign news agencies, and those in charge routinely, automatically and almost unconsciously censor them because they all have decided beforehand that no news or commentary critical of the monarchy is fit for printing or broadcasting, reading or viewing.

This practice is so normal that when Thai media organizations and associations talk about press freedom, they do so without an iota of irony, as they don’t see it as self-censorship anymore.

For those who fail to heed the commandment that thou shalt not spread news critical of the monarchy, they risk ending up in prison.

Forty-year-old Ekachai Hongkangwan, a college-graduate and lottery-ticket vendor, served two years and eight months in prison for violating the lese majeste law for having peddled copies of a documentary news program about the future of the Thai monarchy produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He was released a few weeks ago and told me he’s finding it difficult to get a job as employers are unwilling to hire a lese-majeste convict.

This is a society living in fear if you happen to be critical of the monarchy. Most of them have to hide their true political views more discreetly and secretively than some members of the LGBT community shield their gender identity in Thailand.

It is also a society in a chronic state of clinical denial, as it opts to only consume positive-only news and information about the monarchy. Instead of risking a maximum term of 15 years in prison under the lese majeste law, some resort to gossiping in private among those whom they can trust, or at least believe they can trust.

The gap between what’s reported in the mainstream media and what many, including journalists, gossip about in private is ocean wide and disturbing.

On the flip side of censorship and self-censorship is the manufacturing of overt glorification of the monarchy on mainstream television stations.

Most Thai TV news hosts were given a Bike for Dad T-shirt in honor of His Majesty the King, and asked – in writing or verbally or both – to wear it whenever they’re on air.

A newscaster from a major, free TV channel told me many would only put in on before being on camera and remove it once the broadcast ended.

This is a subtle way of creating an appearance of overt consensus on the glorification of the monarchy.

Why the need to go this far? I have no ready answer for that.

The cost of such a predicament for Thailand is considerable, however.

How can we make a critical assessment of our own society’s strengths and weaknesses if the media and the rest cannot say anything critical at all about the royal institution?

Some may say people are free to gossip privately and cite hearsay. But are these un-rigorous and unreliable ways of communicating really adequate?

The need to be able to frankly talk about our own society, including the monarchy, is even more necessary as Thailand moves closer toward the transitional period in which a royal succession will eventually take place. In reality, it’s expected that there will be greater censorship, self-censorship and arrests under the lese majeste law in the foreseeable future.

We’re heading toward more big blank spaces, censorship, self-censorship, even news blackouts, and all we have are these crude tools called gossip and hearsay. This is definitely not a Thailand that I can be proud of.

This self-denial has been going on for a long time now, far too long even, and the question has become: “How much longer are we going to keep pretending that we’re not in self-denial?”

Time for America to wake up to Trump’s nonsense

3 December 2015

Published by The Economist

For anyone unsure what sort of an event was about to unfold in Robarts Arena, in sunny Sarasota, on November 28th, the elephant was a clue. It stood meekly outside the entrance, a long-suffering fairground veteran, with “Trump: Make America Great Again” chalked on its flank.

Had the thousands of fun-seekers filing past the pachyderm, most of them grey-haired and wearing shorts, needed additional clues, there were plenty. There was the carnival chatter inside the arena, a real holiday buzz, rising from tightly-packed rows of seating, a column of mobility scooters and elderly ladies—80 years old, some of them, but still game—wearing glittery stars-and-stripes hats, badges and earrings. There was also the entrance of the ringmaster himself.

Donald Trump, who still leads the polls in the Republican primaries, sprang from his helicopter and asked someone to bring him “six or seven beautiful children” to take a ride in it. (In that crowd, even ugly ones were hard to see.) Then Mr Trump, just landed, launched directly into his speech. It was relayed into the arena, where maybe 4,500 people faced, in bewilderment, an empty podium, long before he entered corporeally. It was like the Wizard of Oz, only louder.

Mr Trump would object to this portrayal. In recent days, he has castigated the media coverage of his campaign for the Republican nomination; at a rally in South Carolina, he spiced up one of his harangues with a mocking impression of a disabled New York Times correspondent, shouting “You gotta see this guy…” as he gurned and aped his crooked arms. He claims to be serious—seriously tough, seriously clever, “the best in the world at finance”, as he told the wrinklies in Sarasota. But Mr Trump is not at all serious. He is a clown, and an increasingly sinister one.

His shtick is to describe a make-believe fallen America, beaten by everyone, emasculated and immiserated by having “the worst government in the world, there’s nobody as bad”. Then he proposes outlandish ideas to make America great again, in Ronald Reagan’s phrase. As president, he would wall off Mexico and make it pay for the privilege, then kick out 11m illegal immigrants and their offspring. He would tax Chinese goods sufficiently to get back millions of American factory jobs filched by those devious Asians. He would seize Iraq’s oil wells and hand their revenues to the veterans of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and, hell, Syria, too, he told the crowd in Florida (presumably with drone operators in mind).

Mr Trump’s ability to tell people just what they want to hear means they forget that he was once a Democrat and pro-choice; now he is Republican and pro-life. He used to be anti-intervention, but now wants to “bomb the hell out of” Islamic State. He used to dislike loose guns laws, now he loves them: “Some of those folks that were just slaughtered in Paris, if a couple of guns were in that room and were held by the good guys, you would have had a completely different story.”

Mr Trump can be funny; but in less than two months Republicans must start choosing their presidential candidate. So how come 32% of them, when there is that serious task to be done, say they want Mr Trump? One theory is they are also clowning—that they have not yet made a firm choice, and when they do, it will not be the billionaire builder. But Mr Trump’s persistence suggests this is outworn, and so did his fans in Sarasota. In interviews with over a score, most said they had made up their minds and were for Trump. “I don’t have a second choice,” said Joan Combs, a retired country-club manager from Long Island with glittery flags in her greying hair.

By far the most common explanation for this strange loyalty was that Mr Trump “tells it like it is”. That seems to confuse plain language, which Mr Trump is good at (“Listen you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25%” is how he would talk to China), with plain speaking. He does not go in for that. Not even he could believe the nonsense he spouts. Yet for most of his supporters, Mr Trump’s larger-than-lifeness bridges the credulity gap.

Asked whether they believed Mr Trump’s absurd promises, many interviewees offered the thought that “He’s a rich businessman, so he knows what he’s doing”. Mr Trump’s biggest fans are middle-aged or older, white, rather poorly educated and disposed to be awed by a shouty billionaire. The interviewees included former light-blue-collar workers, retired secretaries and nurses, a plumber, a prison officer, salesmen. When pressed, others in the crowd acknowledged that Mr Trump’s biggest pledges, the wall, the mass deportations and so on, are probably hokum. Nonetheless, they felt they showed that “his heart is in the right place”.

The chauvinism Mr Trump displays when denigrating Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as terrorists is another thing some of his supporters like. “I don’t want any Syrians near me,” was one man’s main reason for backing Mr Trump. “You need to take back Britain from the Pakis before you come over here,” another volunteered, in response to being asked what the message on his T-shirt—“It’s not that all Muslims are terrorists, it’s that all terrorists are Muslims”—really meant.

Most of Mr Trump’s fans would probably disapprove of such rudeness. His racism, and maybe theirs, is of a less obtrusive, don’t-you-be-offended-by-this kind. The ninnies in Washington, not Mexicans, are his main scapegoat; he claims to employ the latter by the thousand, and love them. This helps supporters argue that it is not Mr Trump, bad-mouther of women, Mexicans and the disabled, who has the problem, but rather the politically-correct liberal zealots. “As a Christian there’s lots of things I can’t say,” says Debbie Shiraz. “Lots of things, like ‘Merry Christmas’.”

Mr Trump is trying to rein in his offensiveness. At a rally in Alabama last month he appeared to condone, or encourage, the roughing up of a black protester. But when a heckler in Sarasota began to shriek, he enjoined the crowd, with a pained expression, “Don’t hurt the person!” as she was carted off. Nonetheless, a line has been crossed. If nothing else, Mr Trump’s ugly racism would prevent him becoming president, because he has turned off too much of America. Scouring the crowd in Sarasota, your correspondent found three non-whites. One was an activist from the group Black Lives Matter, who had come to heckle. Another was an elderly Sikh, Dr Steve Bedi, who said he was a “guru in unconditional consciousness and how you can become a tree”, skills he thought Mr Trump might wish to acquire. The third was Dr Bedi’s Jamaican disciple.

The anxiety Mr Trump supporters betray by looking for scapegoats says most, of course, about themselves. Typically members of the white lower middle-class, they are at once jealous of the small privileges that distinguish them from the toilers below, and bitterly resentful of the faraway government that provides their Social Security and Medicare. Remonstrating in hard times, they are the “radical centre”, in academic jargon, who turned out for George Wallace, a populist southern Democrat who ran for president four times in the 1960s and 70s, and for another pair of crowd-pleasers, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, in the 1990s. Asked who was the last politician to excite them like Mr Trump, several in Sarasota cited Mr Perot. Mr Trump’s big achievement is to have entered the race with a message already perfectly crafted for this group.

Now, as then, a fear that America is getting weaker, economically or militarily, plays to its members’ fear of loss and change. That also plays to a nationalistic desire for a strong hand on the tiller— for someone, as Linda Miller, a retired accountant, said admiringly of Mr Trump, “to kick ass and take names”.

It may seem odd to come across such bottled fury and despond among the oldsters of the Sunshine State: they are enjoying the retirement, almost an after-life, millions of Americans have aspired to for decades. Yet retirement lends itself to the feelings of insecurity on which Mr Trump preys; it is no coincidence that John Updike sent his great exemplar of the radical centre, Rabbit Angstrom, from whose flabby mouth dripped endless expressions of impotence, anger and glum humour, to Florida to nurse his disappointment. “You are still you,” Rabbit reassures himself, in the fictionalised late 1980s, under the same azure sky from which Mr Trump descended, “The US is still the US, held together by credit cards and Indian names.”

The anxiety of America’s disgruntled centre cuts across the Republican coalition. Mr Trump is picking up some support from evangelical Christians and Tea Party agitators, as well as national-security obsessives: wherever the seam of resentment and anxiety runs. It also goes beyond it. Strikingly, about half of those quizzed in Sarasota once voted Democratic, especially for Bill Clinton. Shamefacedly, one man said he had even voted for Barack Obama.

This suggests that if Mr Trump wins the nomination, he might give his opponent—especially if, as is likely, she is Hillary Clinton—a scare. That prospect is no longer unimaginable; Mr Trump was supposed to have fizzled long ago. Still, the size of his core support, perhaps 30% of the Republican primary, and the opprobrium in which he is held outside it, makes it unlikely. Mr Trump’s lead is chiefly the gift of a fractured field, in which the steadier conservative vote is split between three or four candidates. Mr Trump’s strong ratings, points out Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight, represent the views of only around 25% of the 25% of Americans who identify as Republicans. That equates to 6-8% of the electorate—roughly the proportion who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.

Mr Trump’s hold on American politics has been nasty, brutish and longer than expected. Nothing about it has been pleasant; not even the appearance of the pretty elephant in Sarasota, whose owner, it transpired, was once arrrested for animal cruelty, and whose trainer is in the forefront of a fight for the right to chastise elephants with sharp sticks. Almost none of Mr Trump’s jokes are good jokes. It would be good for America if the end of him, as seems likely, is in sight.

World Air Games 2015 in Dubai

3 December 2015

Dubai is hosting the World Air Games until 12 December 2015. Think of it as an aviation olympics. There are a record number of 1200 athletes from 56 countries visiting for the competition hosted by Skydive Dubai.

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, the World Air Games is an international air sports event organised by FAI, the world governing body for air sports, and inspired by the Olympic Games.

The last edition of the World Air Games was hosted by Italy in 2009

Events include aerobatics, man-powered flying, hot gas air balloons and fuel-filled air balloons, hand-gliders, aeroplane races and landing skills, as well as gliding, aero-modelling, helicopter races and all sorts of parachuting and para-motor flying.

Competitions will be held across four locations in Dubai – Marina Dropzone, Margham Dropzone, Jebel Ali racecourse and Sufooh beach – in addition to activities at Dubai Mall Ice Rink while a medical symposium will be held at Meydan Hotel.

Oddly, for a city built on aviation, neither Emirates nor Dubai Airports appear to be in any way involved in sponsoring or hosting the events.

If Britain has learned anything in twelve years it should be clear that bombing Syria is a mistake

2 December 2015

In 2003 Britain joined the US led war against Iraq.

This website made a mistake in accepting Tony Blair’s arguments in support of the war. This website was misled by apparent evidence of weapons of mass destruction and the likelihood of their use.

Such evidence was subsequently found to be false and misleading. The public had been duped.

Twelve years later the long awaited Chilcot report on the Iraq war is still delayed.

Now we have a Tory Prime Minister who has sucessfully courted Parliamentary support to launch airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria.

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, windy rhetoric and strategic waffle have substituted for rational argument. Cameron’s statement to Parliament is loud on values, ways of life and examined consciences. What he does not talk about is that innocent lives will be lost and that airstrikes on ISIL may simply be a call to arms rather than a strategy for ISIL’s defeat.

Bombing Syria has nothing to do with terrorism, except possibly to increase the likelihood of it in Britain. It has nothing positive to contribute to Britain’s national security, which is not currently under specific threat. The idea that ISIL might undermine British values is an insult to those values.

The one remotely sensible objective of a resumed British engagement in the Middle East would be to restore a modicum of order to Syria and Iraq. But as long as the governments of neither state, nor of other states in the region, are willing to offer troops to this end, the chances of the west succeeding on its own are minimal – or at best likely to be temporary. So all we will do in contribute to the continuing mess of power politics in the Middle East.

Trying to crush ISIL will win it support and require a land army on the scale assembled to liberate Kuwait in 1991. Cameron has specifically said he would not join such an army, though such pledges against mission creep are worthless. For the moment, there is no such ground force to make bombing strategically effective. All Britain is offering is an ugly bombing party, a gesture and a gift to the arms salesman.

There is no case for this bombing. Ed Miliband the former Labour leader, said in a statement: “I do not think the case has been adequately made that extending British airstrikes will either defeat Isil or make us safer here at home. I fear he is correct.

Fear of the Thai junta now covers economic criticism

1 December 2015

Today’s edition of The International New York Times was printed with blank spaces, including on the front page, after the local printer refused to publish an article critical of the Thai economy.

It is the second time in the last 10 weeks that the paper has said its local printer declined to run an article in a country where media freedoms have been increasingly curtailed since last year’s military takeover.

Today’s newspaper was supposed to carry a report headlined “Thai economy and spirits are sagging”, a wide-ranging piece exploring the junta’s inability to kickstart the flagging economy and the disappointment felt among many ordinary Thais.

Instead chunks of the front page and page six were blank and carried the sentence: “The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand. The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal.”

A spokeswoman for the paper gave the same reply when asked for comment.

Eastern Printing Pcl, the paper’s Thai printer, did not comment on why it pulled the piece when contacted. The article was still accessible online in Thailand.

On Sept. 22 Eastern Printing did not publish the entire newspaper because it said the edition was “too sensitive to print”.

Today’s piece primarily centred on the stuttering economy.

Thailand has one of the lowest growth rates in Southeast Asia and the junta’s vow to reinvigorate the economy has shown little progress in a country blighted by high household debt, low consumer confidence and disappointing exports.

Earlier this month The International New York Times said it would cease printing in Thailand altogether by the end of the year, citing rising production costs.

It is still available in six other Southeast Asian nations: Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar.

A Thai reality check

28 November 2015

Andrew Marshall (the other one who still works at Reuters) made some interesting, and alarming notes on Thailand in his recent blog.

“Thailand is rightly proud of its frequent appearances on lists of the world’s best islands, cities, restaurants and spas. These attest to the country’s enduring appeal to millions of foreign tourists, even as a military junta tightens its grip on power. But a slew of less flattering statistics says much more about the health of Thailand’s society and the ability of its leaders to improve it. For example:

Road deaths – Thailand has the world’s second highest rate (after lawless Libya), with at least 14,000 deaths in 2012. The World Health Organization says the actual number could be more than 24,000.

Plastic pollution – Thailand is one of five countries responsible for most of the eight million tons of plastic dumped in the world’s oceans.

Teenage pregnancy – Thailand has the second highest rate (after impoverished Laos) in East Asia and the Pacific, and it’s rising rapidly.

Human trafficking – Thailand occupies the lowest tier (with North Korea and Syria) in the U.S. State Department’s annual ranking of countries for their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Black economy – Thailand is seventh on a list of top ten developing countries for illicit capital outflows, third if you re-plot the data as a percentage of GDP. These outflows totalled $35 billion in 2012.

Gun crime – Amazingly, Thailand’s gun homicide rate is almost equal to that of the United States.”

The land of smiles is of course marketing speak. Thailand is far from the idyllic picture. What is remarkable is how its tourist appeal endures, despite the number of foreigner deaths, assaults and incidents.

Still better than Thaksin?

27 November 2015 : Prasit Wongtibun for New Mandala

As the latest corruption scandal shows, the Thai junta hasn’t rid the country of dodgy politicians; it’s simply taken their place.

Anti-corruption has been a poster child of anti-democratic groups in Thailand since 2005.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (2005-2008), the Council for National Security (2006-2007), the People’s Democratic Reform Council (2013-2014), and the National Council of Peace and Order (2014–present) have all used it to drive their agenda.

Now, as the Thai economy crumbles and dissent grows, an anti-corruption campaign is the only lifeline for the ruling NCPO. Supposedly, it confirms the junta’s superior moral standard when compared to elected politicians.

Since the May 2014 coup, the NCPO has adopted harsh measures to eradicate corruption, and General Prayuth Chan-ocha, NCPO head, constantly repeats his intention to fight against dishonesty in public office.

Unsurprisingly, the main target of the NCPO’s anti-corruption campaign has been former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

After being overthrown by a constitutional court ruling before the coup, Yingluck was retroactively impeached by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in August for suspicion of corruption in a rice-subsidy scheme she oversaw as PM. The scheme operated at a loss and cost the state several million baht.

A criminal case against her was filed with the Supreme Court, and she now faces a possible 10 years in jail. For civil compensation, the NCPO avoided a lengthy judicial process by commissioning an ad hoc tribunal under the Government Tort Act. Under this, a large part of Yingluck’s assets could be confiscated – an outcome that could cripple the future political ambitions of both her, and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra.

But the NCPO’s anti-corruption campaign has gone further than holding Yingluck to account.

After coming to power, Prayuth was given instant impunity from section 44 of the Interim Constitution, allowing him to overrule any law and regulation at his will. In addition, the NCPO, upon receiving a list of suspected civil servants and local officials from the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), invoked its dictatorial power to immediately remove or suspend these suspects from active posts.

Furthermore, the NLA amended the anti-corruption law, adding the death penalty to the charge. The upcoming constitution will probably contain more chapters on public morals as well as severe punishment for unethical politicians.

These aggressive measures appeal to the junta’s supporters who believe that such powers will quickly rid the country of corrupt politicians.

They might reluctantly admit that Prayuth’s personality is rogue and erratic. That the NCPO’s policies might resemble the Thaksinomics once so widely derided. That people’s rights and liberties are almost absent. And that the country has been humiliated in the international arena.

But still, they insist, this is better than former PM Thaksin’s administration because Prayuth is rescuing Thailand from corruption.

Yet is Thailand becoming less corrupt? Has the NCPO’s aggressive campaign transformed Thailand into a country where the rule of law and transparency reign? The reality points to the opposite. The country is as corrupt as before, or even worse.

For example, the business sector has reported that “commissions” for government projects has risen to 30 or 50 per cent of the total project value. Local mafias on the street were replaced by men in uniform to whom vendors still pay protection.

The NCPO has also appointed their relatives to the administration. Prayuth’s brother was appointed into the NLA and the NCPO. National Reform Council members appointed their spouses and offspring as assistants.

Asset disclosure revealed unjustifiable wealth in many NLA members’ accounts. Prayuth’s cabinet was also accused of procuring extraordinarily expensive microphone sets that prompted public outcry.

Despite these allegations, the NCPO’s supporters argue that while corruption persists, it is of a smaller scale than before. They conclude that Thais have to tolerate the lesser evil to eliminate the greater one. Such pragmatism is in great contrast to the ultra-moralistic standard they applied to previous cabinets.

Such claims are naïve for two reasons.

First, corruption within the Thai army is not at all small. Fraud can be found at many levels. Officers enjoy bribes from Thai men who want to avoid compulsory conscription. Once within a barracks, officers can take a portion of conscripts’ salary. Later, these conscripts can be allocated to generals’ houses as servants, gardeners, and drivers.

The army has also triggered many multi-million baht scandals involving weapon and equipment procurements; armored vehicles, fighter jets, bomb detectors, even aerial surveillance balloons. This corruption is so systemised that people tend to forget that it exists.

Second, the solution to corruption is far more complicated than exercising authoritative power, punishing the accused and hoping that this brutality intimidates others.

Corruption thrives in Thailand because its culture suits the practice so well that a few transfers or even imprisonments will never correct the ill practice.

Thailand is known for its deference to seniority, its hierarchical social structure, and face-saving, all of which allows corruption to flourish. No one offends the powerful senior by accusing him of wrongful conduct, even when it is obvious. Whistle-blowers are often condemned for causing shame to an organisation.

In order to change these attitudes, Thailand needs to instill a sense of equality and openness. Dissent must be encouraged. Misconduct should be reported without fear of revenge. Unfortunately, the junta could never offer such values, for it is one of the most hierarchical and opaque institutions in Thailand.

Section 44 is not the magic tool many expect it to be. Corruption is the symptom of a deficit in the rule of law, particularly when people cheat the system for personal gain. In this light, the NCPO’s exercise of section 44 deepens the culture of cheating, confirming for the public that the end justifies the means.

Since corruption is ingrained within society, any anti-corruption campaign has to plan for a long-term and systematic operation. Consistency and fairness are two important keys.

But Prayuth’s attention span is short. Prosecution has been sporadic. Moreover, his anti-corruption campaign has only seemed to hit only the Shinwatra family while many other cases involving the NCPO’s allies remain untouched.

By not acting even-handedly, the public has seen Prayuth’s anti-corruption campaign for what it really is; rhetoric to harass his personal enemies.

This unfair approach will not teach people to stop being corrupt; it simply encourages them to choose the right side of politics, so they can continue to commit bad deeds.

In its supposed quest to rid Thailand of corruption, the NCPO’s biggest challenge has recently emerged.

In early November, the junta made high-profile arrests of a famous fortune-teller and two policemen for lese majeste. These arrests led to more warrants for army officers who fled the country and were later dismissed without honours.

The case continued with the mysterious deaths in detention of some of the accused. It also emerged that these men were involved in alleged corruption in the construction of Thailand’s newest major landmark, Rajabhakti Park.

Rajabhakti Park is located on the southwest coast of Thailand. It displays huge bronze statutes of seven great ancient Thai kings in order to commemorate their reigns and inspire loyalty to the current monarchy.

The park is the masterpiece of former Army Chief, Udomdej Sitabutr, who boasted about raising hundreds of millions of baht through donations and finishing the construction in only a few months.

But investigations have revealed that a large portion of the donations were diverted into people’s pockets. Sculptors admitted that they were paid much lower than the official price. Palm trees, quoted at 300,000 baht each, were actually donated for free.

The Rajabhakti Park scandal has caused serious damage for the NCPO. The scale of corruption is large with possibly hundreds of millions of baht embezzled. Moreover, it challenges the army’s notion of loyalty.

The army was caught benefitting illegally from the monarchy’s revered status, an act that brought disgrace to the palace. Finally, in addition to several mid-ranked officers, evidence ultimately pointed to Udomdej.

Although Udomdej retired in October, he is still an active member of the NCPO, and is deputy defence minister. He failed to clear himself of accusations of corruption when he gave an interview on the topic. He admitted that there was corruption but all money has since been returned as a donation to the project.

The army is not used to purging its own personnel. If it does, it will be in a kangaroo court, not through a normal judicial process. Usually, only a few low-ranked officers are held accountable; the big fish get away.

But the NCPO is now a political body in the public spotlight. The Rajabhakti Park case posed a dilemma for them. If the NCPO punished Udomdej, it would be breaking the long-held tradition of unity within the military and also upset the regime.

But if the NCPO spared him, it would not seem any better than former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was tainted with corruption, disloyalty, and favouritism. After a brief internal probe, the current Army Commander-in-Chief, Theerachai Nakvanich, announced that the commission found no corruption.

He then lost his temper when one female correspondent asked for a financial statement. He ranted that he could not understand why people wanted to punish those with good intentions. The lame press conference did more harm than good to the NCPO’s reputation. It made it seem they chose to cover up the crime of its cronies, just as any politician would have done.

The press continues to investigate the story and the National Anti-Corruption Commission have finally accepted the case. These latest developments prove how incompetent the army is in tackling corruption and how unrealistic the pragmatic hope of choosing the lesser evil over a supposed bigger evil is.

Meanwhile, the “still better than Thaksin” mantra, has lost much of its charm.

While the most ardent supporters of the NCPO insist that this scandal was Thaksin’s plan to sabotage the government, many finally woke up to reality and grieved that their sacrifice during the Bangkok Shutdown campaign of 2014 had been wasted.

But what can one do against a corrupt junta? No courts will try the case and the public cannot recall the previous government. Hopefully, Thais will learn that only a good ‘checks-and-balances’ system and a democratic culture can make Thailand transparent; not a benevolent dictator.

They should push for more democracy, not less. But at present, Thais can only wait for the NCPO’s mercy to step down.

Prasit Wongtibun is a pen name. The author is an observer of Thai politics and law.

Shooting down Russian fighter escalates ME tensions

25 November 2015

Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday, the first time a NATO member’s armed forces have downed a Russian or Soviet military aircraft since the 1950s, and an act Vladimir Putin said would have “significant consequences.”

Turkey said the aircraft had violated its airspace and been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes before it was attacked.

In reality it appears that if the Russian fighter did enter Turkish airspace it did so for a matter of seconds. Though with border flights such as this there is a risk of conflict along the border.

Turkey has requested an extraordinary NATO meeting to inform members about the downing of the jet, which will take place at 5pm Brussels time (11:00am Eastern time).

Both Turkey and Russia have mobilised their pr teams to explain this incident.

Both pilots appear to have jettisoned from the SU-24 fighter-bomber but were apparently dead by the time their bodies were found. There are conflicting claims as to their fate.

In a very strongly-worded statement around 4pm Turkish time (8am ET), President Putin said the plane fell on Syrian territory four kilometers (2.5 miles) from Turkey.

“Neither our pilots nor our jet threatened the territory of Turkey. This is obvious,” he said, speaking ahead of a visit by King Abdullah II of Jordan in Sochi. “We will analyze everything, and today’s tragic event will have significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations.

“Do they want to make Nato serve ISIS? I understand that every state has its own regional interests and we’ve always respected that, but we will never allow the kind of crime that happened to today to take place. And of course we hope that the international community will find the strength to come together and fight against the common evil.”

Some media have alarming described this incident as the start of World War 3. That is unlikely. Putin will need to be seen to do something. There will be plenty sound and fury and probably some form of retribution, maybe economic. Banning Turkish flights from Russia may be a start.

Moscow has allowed its jets to test NATO borders regularly. It is a game as much as anything. But not this time. Turkey sees itself as a regional power, it also sees Moscow as a sometimes partner-of-convenience, but also local rival.

Putin’s immediate response has been to accuse Turkey of stabbing Russia in the back, of in effect protecting ISIS, and running to its NATO powers as if it has been one of its own aircraft that had been shot down.

But no one wants this to escalate beyond words and economic sanctions. Europe clearly wants Moscow to be part of the solution in Syria. And in Europe there is plenty of concern about an emboldened Turkey, its agenda and its role in the region.

Russia will want some form of apology from Turkey that can be spread widely through the Russian media. The Turkish PM will not want to climb down. But for now Russia has the upper hand in the pr war. This looks like an unnecessary act of aggression by the Turkish.

As one commentator noted: “Putin really wants a return to 19th century geopolitics, when might made right and realpolitik was all. Let’s not forget that one of the defining 19th century conflicts was that between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, which were sometimes openly at war, sometimes ostensibly at peace, but never anything than enemies. Here we go again.”

The shaming of America

16 November 2015

Fox News (such an awful fear mongering organisation) reported last night that Florida Governor Rick Scott (no relation – thankfully) said that the state will not be willing to accept any refugees from Syria. Florida joins the growing list of states that have sent similar notices to the federal government.

More than half the nation’s governors — 26 states — say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states, although the final say on this contentious immigration issue will fall to the federal government.

States protesting the admission of refugees range from Alabama and Georgia, to Texas and Arizona, to Michigan and Illinois, to Maine and New Hampshire. Among these 26 states, all but one have Republican governors.

The announcements came after authorities revealed that at least one of the suspects believed to be involved in the Paris terrorist attacks entered Europe among the current wave of Syrian refugees. He had falsely identified himself as a Syrian named Ahmad al Muhammad and was allowed to enter Greece in early October.

One alleged terrorist out of over 250,000 refugees who have fled in the last few months.

In joining a group of largely Republican governors opposing resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, Gov. Rick Scott has said no to the Syrian refugees — and yes to fear — proving once again that terrorism works.

America – a land built on immigration; a land that has welcomed waves of immigrants; the Irish fleeing famine and British oppression; Europeans fleeing the devastation of two world wars; Chinese fleeing communism. And now candidates for the U.S. presidency, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are seriously talking about abandoning such basic constitutional principles as separation between church and state, proposing that the United States help only Christian refugees?

America is frightened to the point of wanting to seal her borders, rejecting compassion.

An estimated 40,000 refugees fled Syria each day this fall. The United States has a very comprehensive and lengthy screening process for asylum-seekers from that war-torn country. Estimates are that it takes 18 months to three years to complete.

Pope Francis noted that: “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War,” he said during his historic address to Congress on Sept. 24. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated … In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”

President Barack Obama recalled those words Monday during a news conference at the close of a two-day summit of Western leaders. “People who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism. They are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war strife. They are parents. They are children. They are orphans. And it is very important … that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence,” he said.

One other small detail that Americans may want to recall – it was your nation’s invasion of Iraq that contributed to the instability in the Middle East.

“The land of the free and the home of the brave.” No more.

What the attacks in Paris say about Islamic State’s intentions

15 November 2015 – The Economist

France has always been high on the list of rhetorical targets for Islamic State (IS). “Know that we want Paris—by Allah’s permission—before Rome and before Spain, after we blacken your lives and destroy the White House, the Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower,” said Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the top spokesman for IS. But that was the long-term plan, perhaps to be carried out by “our children and grandchildren”, he added, back in March, long before the atrocities this weekend in the French capital.

In the short term, fighters were instead directed to travel to the group’s main battleground in Iraq and Syria, where IS controls a swathe of land. Unlike al-Qaeda, which specialised in attacking the “far enemy” in America and Europe, IS focused on building and fighting for its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, and in acquiring affiliates elsewhere in the Middle East as states collapsed or frayed. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, was never part of the global jihad movement and indeed is thought not to have travelled outside Iraq and Syria.

But the carnage in Paris on November 13th and a recent spate of earlier attacks claimed by IS may indicate a change in strategy; these include two bombings in Beirut on November 12th and the explosion that brought down a Russian aeroplane in Egypt on October 31st (a bombing in Ankara that killed more than 100 people in Ankara on October 10th was attributed to IS but not claimed by it). Officials in America and Europe say the attackers in Paris communicated with the central leadership of IS in Syria prior to the attacks. Iraqi officials say their government passed on a warning about an imminent assault by the group on Western countries (some say it explicitly mentioned France). François Hollande, the French president, has declared that the massacre “was prepared, organised and planned from abroad”. If the central leadership of IS directed the attacks it would represent an escalation for the group, which to this point has more often acted as the inspiration, rather than the instigator, of violence against Western targets. The question, then, is why?

To believe IS, the attacks are retribution for Western airstrikes against it in Iraq and Syria, where the group is under pressure. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, with the help of those airstrikes, have retaken the town of Sinjar in north-west Iraq, threatening the supply lines between the group’s two main bastions, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. The Iraqi army has encircled IS-held Ramadi, west of Baghdad. And on November 12th a strike by an American drone probably killed Mohammed Emwazi, the IS executioner dubbed “Jihadi John”.

For IS, spectacular attacks abroad may now seem like the most effective way of fighting back and deterring deeper involvement by outside forces, whether it be Russia’s recent intervention in Syria or France’s more longstanding engagement. The attacks on Western targets may also represent a form of armed propaganda. As IS is weakened at home, the group may be looking to save face and project strength in any way it can. If deterrence is the goal, however, it is likely to be counterproductive. Western governments are promising to step up their fight against IS. French warplanes have already struck IS militants in Syria in response to massacre in Paris.

Whatever the proximate cause of this apparent shift in strategy, it is perhaps best to think of it as a character trait that is finally manifesting itself. Although most of the group’s rhetoric is aimed at local enemies in the Middle East, there have long been calls for conquest in the West by the group’s leaders and in its publications. “You haven’t seen anything from us just yet,” said Mr Adnani, referring to the West, at the beginning of the year. The fear is that as the group comes under more pressure at home, it may lash out even more regularly abroad, choosing the soft targets of Western cities to create the biggest headlines

Time to leave Dubai

15 November 2015

By 5am on Friday morning last week it was clear to me that it is time for Tai and I to leave Dubai.

The reasons are many – but they all add up to a place where I am not happy; where I dislike the person that I am when I am here – too angry, too frustrated, too intolerant.

Simply stated – if you do care about right or wrong; fair and unfair; doing good or doing bad; treating the people around you as you yourself would like to be treated; transparency and accountability; that people should have a role in how they are governed and by who; then Dubai will test your resilience.

You can give in to it as many do – if you cannot beat them then join them. Or at some stage you have to say enough is enough.

That’s not to say that there are not good reasons for being here. For us it has worked well. We have made friends here that will outlive our time in Dubai. With Tai at Emirates we have been able to travel together and regularly; we have been able to keep in good contact with family.

But in some ways that is symptomatic: the best days have been the one’s where we are not in Dubai.

So what is driving me away.

I do not even want to write that down – at least not until after we have left. Such is the level of paranoia among writers/bloggers/commentators here.

Perhaps the saddest part; it is not home and never will, or can, be.

Provoking hate through Paris attacks

14 November 2015

Overnight there were six separate terror attacks in Paris. The attacks were on people eating; listening to music; attending s sports event. They were attacks at the heart of western-style lives aimed at gaining maximum publicity.

The number of dead is now 128 while another 99 are in critical condition.

Gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people at a show by Eagles Of Death Metal

Others strapped with suicide bombs also attacked restaurants and a sports stadium at locations across the French capital.

The French president says Islamic State behind attacks, which are an “act of war.”

It is not clear at this time whether this is definitely the work of IS but is is clear that the aims of the attack were to: terrorise (enemies of the terrorists), mobilise (supporters) and polarise (communities). The latter aim was laid out explicitly as goal by IS in February.

As with the Charlie Hedbo attack at the start of the year it may well be that the attacks unite the French and Europeans across all faiths rather than creating the polarization and hatred that they seek.

One of the lessons of being in America through the summer is how easy, and how wrong, it is to see all Muslims through the same lens. The reality is that “Islamic” means very different things even to different Muslims and that there is a crisis of values in Islam. The Islamist extremist worldview says that we’re separate, different, hate each other and are eternal enemies.

But like all extremists they are in the small minority. If we want to shatter this extremist worldview then the right response is to show them we are not separate or different, we do not hate each and can be eternal friends.

Seeing Europeans line up to help and embrace Muslim refugees in the summer 
infuriated and shattered the worldview of so many Islamist extremists.

Whatever response Europe now chooses, it should not trade off short-term security (and popularity) for long-term strategic effectiveness.

The post 9-11 message is that a “war-on-terror” is not the right answer; the Bush response gave the extremists exactly what they wanted by empowering the very psychopaths that the USA went to war with.

The reality is that the open nature of world cities makes them open to Paris type attacks. It is very hard to stop suicidal terrorists who are on a one-way mission. Key responses needed are on personal level: defiance, toughness, vigilance.

And as one Arabic commentator wrote on Facebook: “Leave it to the Middle East to put an end to the Schengen agreement & the European dream of an “ever closer union”. We now export Oil & Failure.”

Dubai Airshow 2015 – a reality check

8 November 2015

The 2015 Dubai Airshow opened today.

This biennial event has previously been a showcase for glitzy orders and major annoucements.

Not this year. The opening day saw no major purchasing deals announced. And I doubt there will be mush activity later in the week.

But the Gulf airlines are using the event to showcase the latest and newest aircraft in their fast-growing fleets.

Dubai-based Emirates displayed its 68th brand new double decker A380 aircraft (in a two class 615 seat configuration), which was delivered directly from Airbus to the airshow site. Qatar Airways is displaying three of its aircraft, the A380, A350 and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

In the last airshow two years ago, deals worth more than $140 billion for new Boeing and Airbus planes were announced by the four main airlines in the region: Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and budget carrier flydubai. Many of these orders are still being processed. Though at some stage Airbus amd Emirates will need to reach an accord on the A380neo and Emirates will also need to decide between the AirbusA350 and the Boeing 787 for its regionsl and less high density flights.

The Dubai Airshow is seen as an increasingly important barometer of the state of the aviation industry and the rising roles of the big-spending Gulf carriers as they compete for routes and critical stopover traffic between Asia, Europe and the Americas.

In Dubai alone, aviation contributes to 28 per cent of the emirate’s gross domestic product, or about $22 billion. For a young generation of Gulf Arabs, the growing aviation industry also offers thousands of new jobs. In the Middle East, 40,000 pilots and 53,000 technicians will be needed in the next two decades to keep up with demand, according to a Boeing forecast.

The Dubai Airshow this year includes 1,100 exhibitors from around the world with 150 from the U.S. The flying display includes fighter jets such as the Rafale, Typhoon, F-16 and F-22 as well as the AirbusA350 and displays from Al Fursan, the Breitling wingwalkers and the Frecce Tricolori.

Reality – it was a low key opening day and attendance fell like it was lower than in previous years. The aed50 car park fee probably did not help; a car pick which also smelled and looked like it had been completed the previous day.

Emirates half year results show yields under pressure

7 November 2015

The Emirates Group last Thursday announced that revenue reached AED46.1 billion ($12.6 billion) for the first six months of its 2015-16 financial year, down 2.3 percent from the same period last year, reflecting the impact of the strong US dollar against major currencies.

There are other distractions: widening regional wars and security concerns stopped services to a number of destinations, halting the Bamako launch, and rerouting flights over conflict zones. Cutthroat competition forced fares down. Even the distracting war of words with US airlines cost company time.

The Group, which comprises the international airline and air services provider dnata, said in a statement that it recorded one of its best half-year profit performances ever, with net profit rising to AED3.7 billion ($1 billion), up 65 percent over the year earlier result.

It added that its cash position on September 30 was at AED14.8 billion compared to AED20 billion six months earlier due to ongoing investments mainly into new aircraft, airline related infrastructure projects, and business acquisitions.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive, Emirates Airline and Group, said: “Our top-line figures were hit hard by the strong US dollar against other major currencies. The currency exchange situation, combined with ongoing regional conflict and weak economic outlook in many parts of the world, dampened the positive impact of lower fuel prices during the first half of our 2015-16 financial year.

Emirates’ revenue decreased, just the second time in its first half year history, by 4% to Dhs42.3 billion. Passenger numbers increased by 10% to 25.7 million and capacity grew by 16%. Seat load factors dropped to 78.3% from 81.5%.

Emirates Airline’s net profit for the six months was AED3.1 billion, up 65 percent from the same period last year, partly due to the impact of lower fuel prices.

On average, fuel prices were 41 percent lower compared to the same period last year. Fuel remained the largest component of the airline’s cost, accounting for 28 percent of operating costs compared with 38 percent in the first six months of last year.

Some Emirates’ milestones in the six months include: 13 new aircraft; four new destinations; upgraded services to 15 cities and frequency increases to 10; and the Emirates FA Cup and Benfica sponsorships.

In the six months Group employee strength grew by 4% to more than 87,000 – adding over 2,000 people in Emirates and 600 in dnata.

In the second six months of the financial year Emirates will take delivery of 16 more aircraft.

The real message in the numbers is that revenue is down to 2013/2014 levels; since there has been a significant increase in capacity in the last two years. Yields are under real pressure. The bottom line has been saved by the massive reduction in fuel costs.

Sensitive Junta demands Bangkok Post withdraw editorial

15 October 2015

The Bangkok Post has pulled this editorial opinion from its website on instructions from Thailand’s military junta. Which is the best of reasons why it needs to be re-published.

Given that the Bangkok Post was clearly pro-coup and pro-junta it is a symptom of how bad things are in Thailand when the junta loses the newspaper’s support

How ridiculously sensitive can you get!?

Editorial Opinion : Stay calm and don’t shoot the messenger – Bangkok Post – 15 October.

In the past week we have seen two incidents that have reflected the ostrich-like mentality of those in the military-run government — of refusing to confront the issues that face them, whatever they may be. And both times they chose to shoot the messenger.

The first move was a decision by the Ministry of Culture to ban the screening of Arbat, a film about a Buddhist novice who commits monastic misconduct. The other was the rush to ban media reports about the ongoing rift between two powerful four-star army generals — both members of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order.

The film ban by the Office of Culture Promotion’s censorship board was made on the grounds that Arbat is blasphemous, with its content accused of of violating Section 29 of the Film and Video Act 2008, which could lead to conflicts in society and upset the order and morality of people.

What is wrong with the plot of Arbat (or Breach in English)?

It tells the story of a young boy who is forced into the monkhood and then falls in love with a girl in the village. The novice monk also witnesses acts of misconduct by a senior monk.

Somchai Surachatree, spokesman of the National Office of Buddhism, said the majority of the censorship board agreed that the movie does not uphold the principles of dhamma or established values in Thai society, citing several provocative scenes such as the novice kissing the girl and a young monk putting a Buddha head on the ground.

Haven’t we already heard in the media about worse misconduct by monks of all ages — from peddling drugs to disguising themselves as laymen to have sex with women?

Or was the 4-2 censorship decision made for a political reason after claims by Buddhist groups last month that the film-maker has an ulterior motive of targeting Buddhism?

Let’s be serious. As an old Thai saying goes, an iron bar is worn away by rust from the inside out. So no external force can effectively destroy Buddhism in Thailand without malpractice by Buddhist laymen and monks first.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand, and closing their eyes and ears so they can’t see the genuine misconduct of monks reflected on the silver screen, those Buddhist activists should run a campaign to find ways to clean up the monasteries and reform the ruling Sangha Council.

Sahamongkol Film, the producer of Arbat, should stand its ground on freedom of expression and screen the whole film without any editing, meeting the demands of more than 60,000 people who signed a petition on www.change.org to urge Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the ministry to allow the film to be shown without being cut.

As for the second ostrich-like move, the desperate effort at damage control over the long-simmering rift between new army chief Theerachai Nakvanich and his predecessor Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, most media outlets, including the Bangkok Post, started running the story last week. It involves the escalating conflict between the two men who have long had a personality conflict though they were classmates at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School.

Gen Theerachai was reportedly backed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon for the top army post. Gen Udomdej was said to prefer Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, the younger brother of the prime minister, for the position, but had to follow the orders of the two military strongmen.

Despite a public display of friendliness and assurances from Gen Prawit, also defence minister and so-called “big brother”, that there is nothing amiss between Gen Theerachai and his predecessor Gen Udomdej, scepticism within the army remains.

A week after the Theerachai-Udomdej rift report was run in the Post — in print and on the website, the Bangkok Post server host received a request seeking “cooperation” from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology to take down the article, saying it could “instigate domestic unrest”.

This marks the first time the junta has asked the Post to do this since it toppled the elected civilian government in May last year.

So from Tuesday, the story disappeared from the website.

This short-term solution may have satisfied some military personnel working for the prime minister and other generals, but it won’t stop the tension and more news reports may emerge soon.

Here’s my message to the military: shooting the messengers will not bring an end to our conflicts.

Nopporn Wong-Anan is deputy editor, Bangkok Post.

MH17 crash report: Dutch investigators confirm Buk missile hit plane

13 October 2015

The Dutch Saftey Board has released its final report on the downing of MH17 over the Ukraine last year.

The report does not say who fired the missile but it is clinical and terrifying in its detailed account.

A separate criminal investigation is due to present its report within the next few months. The Dutch have not ruled out murder charges but prosecution of any individuals is frankly unlikely and the missile crew that was responsible (and have no doubt that someone was repsonsible) have been long retreated into Russia and been hidden away.

This is a summary of the Dutch Safety Board account of the MH17 crash, and the reaction to its report. It should be made clear that the DSB specifically says it is not in its purview to determine the launch location of the BUK missile.

The report concluded that MH17 was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile which exploded less than a metre from the cockpit. It said the front of the aircraft was destroyed by the missile, killing the three pilots instantly and causing the rest of the plane to break apart.

Bow-tie shape fragments in the debris and traces of paint were crucial in determining the precise model of warhead involved. The report named the missile used as a 9N314M warhead as carried on a 9M38-series missile and launched by a Buk surface-to-air missile system.

A partial-reconstruction of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing shot down has been pieced together from wreckage from the crash site in eastern Ukraine. The reconstruction has helped to validate the board’s conclusions, according to Tjibbe Joustra, the board’s chairman.

The makers of Buk missile systems, Almaz-Antey, gave a press conference on Tuesday morning, before the Dutch report, apparently aimed at distracting attention from the Dutch report. The Russian propaganda report has been active on social media claiming once again that it was the Ukraine military that was responsible. Almaz-Antey said it had performed two experiments proves one of its missiles could not have been launched from areas under pro-Russia separatist control.

Barry Sweeney, whose son Liam, was one of 10 British victims of the crash said he hoped all the passengers were killed as soon as the plane was hit. He said: “We can’t be 100% sure [that nobody suffered on the flight] but we’ve got to sort of think that was the case.”

But the report found that some passengers could have been conscious after the missile hit. It said: “It could not be ascertained at which exact moment occupants died, but it is certain that the impact on the ground was not survivable.”

The Russian government has challenged the finding that a Buk missile shot down the plane. The DSB noted Russia’s objections but issued a point-by-point rebuttal.

The Dutch safety board did say that the airspace above the conflict zone should have been closed by Ukraine to commercial air traffic. The airlines themselves were a little too cavalier in not reviewing geopolitical issues and the use of commercial airspace.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, welcomed the report and called on those responsible to be “held to account”. Ukraine repeated its accusation that Russian militants were behind the attack.

The report did not deal with “blame and culpability”. A second criminal investigation by the Dutch prosecutor’s office, scheduled to conclude early in 2016, is expected to answer the most politically charged question: who shot down flight MH17?

The DSB has released an animated video of how MH17 was shot down by Buk missile, in Dutch and English and also with Ukrainian and Russian subtitles. (note the video is 20 minutes).

Here is the DSB’s summary of their full report.

This is the Appendix to the report that includes all of the proposed Russian changes to the report and the DSB’s measured response.

AvHerald with a full summary of the DSB report

Dutch Safety Board official website

Koh Tao murder trial concludes; verdict on 24 December

12 October 2015

The Koh Tao murder trial has concluded its hearings and a verdict will be given by the panel of three judges on 24 December.

The two accused Burmese defendants gave evidence in the closing stages of their trial over the murders of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, in Koh Tao in September last year.

Zaw Lin told the court that after his arrest, a police interpreter told him to admit to the crime or he would be killed. He was told that if he confessed, he would be imprisoned for “only four to five years”. Due to fear, he agreed to confess, the co-defendant told the court.

He said that before re-enactment of the crime at the scene of the murders, an interpreter suggested what should be done.

Zaw Lin testified that in November last year he signed his name to a written confession because he was still afraid of getting killed. He claimed that he did not understand the words in the document.

Zaw Lin also told the court he thought the police officers were going to suffocate him as they repeatedly put plastic bags over his head and tightened them around his face and neck until he collapsed.

As the court session went on into the night, Wei Phyo said he was punched repeatedly for refusing to admit he was filmed on CCTV running away from the killings.

Wei Phyo told the trial: “The police asked if that was me in the picture and I said no. I was wearing a black top and long trousers that night, as seen in earlier CCTV footage, and the person they were pointing to wasn’t me and was wearing white shorts.

“But when I denied it they punched me. They asked me again and again and I repeated again and again that it was not me on the CCTV but they punched me every time, until I had to confess to stop it.”

Wei Phyo said he was also kicked, punched and slapped repeatedly and threatened with dismemberment, electrocution, and a burial at sea before he finally confessed.

The diminutive Burmese defendant said he was finally convinced to say he committed the crimes by a senior police officer who was wearing civilian clothes: “The man said I was young, and I could just say I did it and just go to prison for several years. If I didn’t I would certainly be killed. The interpreter told me he was in a position to help me, so I decided I should confess. After that, I signed many documents but I didn’t know what they said.“

Wei Phyo said he was then instructed by police officers and the translator in how he should say he killed Ms Witheridge and Mr Miller.

The prosecution insists DNA from the Myanmar migrant workers was found on Ms Witheridge’s body. But the defense team has called many witnesses to discredit the DNA testing process, which was done exclusively by Thai police.

Thailand’s Central Institute of Forensic Science re-examined the murder weapon, a hoe, and testified there was no DNA from the accused on it, but it did have DNA from the both victims and a third unidentified person.

The clothing Ms Witheridge was wearing when her body was found was not presented as evidence.

The trial has been a torturous process for the families of the victims, who have been forced to fly back and forth to Thailand to attend 21 days of testimony spread over four months. T

In a last day surprise the family of David Miller intervened in the trial to try and prove their son’s phone was in the possession of one of the accused.

In a dramatic twist in the final two hours of testimony, the prosecution took receipt of a package from the Thai Embassy in London, which they said confirmed the unique IMEI number of a phone found near the lodgings of one of the accused Burmese migrant workers.

Wei Phyo, 22, has not denied finding a phone on the beach on the night of the murders.

He said he picked it out of the sand some distance from the murder scene and took it home but he could not open it as it was locked with a passcode.

“The next day we heard about the murders and we were worried it might belong to someone involved,” he told the court.

“My friend smashed up the phone and threw it into the undergrowth behind our hut.”

The confirmation of ownership adds to circumstantial evidence against the defendants.

However the only significant evidence directly linking the two accused, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, to the murders is the police DNA results. The verdict therefore appears to come down to the court’s position on the reliability of the police DNA evidence/results; together with the court’s view of the torture allegations in explaining the original confessions.

FCCT Statement on formal charges against Anthony Kwan for carrying body armour

10 October 2015

The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand is disappointed to hear that the Royal Thai Police have filed formal charges against the Hong Kong photojournalist Hok Chun ‘Anthony’ Kwan for carrying body armour and a helmet while travelling out of Thailand on assignment in August. He has been charged with unauthorised possession of equipment categorised as a weapon under Thai law, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison under the 1987 Arms Control Act.

The FCCT has repeatedly requested assistance from the Thai government in finding a way for journalists and others, like paramedics, who may be required to work in conflict zones, to be able to carry personal protective equipment legally. Mr. Kwan brought in body armour and a helmet, as have many other journalists in Thailand, solely for his personal safety. Such equipment used by journalists should not be regarded as offensive weapons.

Instead of charging Mr. Kwan, the Thai authorities should consult with the media community in Thailand, both foreign and domestic, to explore a way around the 1987 law, which was surely not intended to prosecute journalists carrying out their normal duties.

National to link Orlando and Canada

7 October 2015

National Airlines, which has been doing military contract flying in Dubai, will start a new passenger operation in the USA from December 2015 and will grow to a five destination network by the middle of January 2016. All the flights will be operated using a 184-seat Boeing 757-200 and National has partnered with Tourico Holidays to package flights with hotels, rental cars, cruises, activities, vacation homes and more alongside its seat-only offering.

National Airlines has selected Orlando Sanford International Airport as its initial operating base serving five cities across North America with domestic links within the US and international services to Canada.

The business will initially launch with a twice weekly link to next year’s Routes Americas host city of San Juan in Puerto Rico from December 16, 2015; followed just a day later by the start of a twice weekly link to Windsor in Ontario, Canada. Las Vegas –also served twice weekly – will be added to the network from December 27, 2015, while twice weekly flights to St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada will follow from January 18, 2016 and January 20, 2016, respectively.

After investigating numerous options, National Airlines said it selected Orlando Sanford “because of its exceptional service, proximity to local attractions, and the relatively smaller crowds and shorter lines that will minimize time in the airport, leaving guests more time to enjoy all that Florida has to offer”.

National has developed a product different from the general industry move to no-frills operations which it says is unlike today’s normal “cattle-car approach”. The carrier will offer a free checked bag, free reserved seating and a free meal as part of standard pricing as it focuses on delivering exceptional value and price in a comfortable and professional manner. “We think travelers will agree. Just give us the opportunity to introduce you to our ‘Inclusive Fares, Exclusive Service,’ approach to air travel,” said Dennis Daley, Manager of Network Planning and Strategy, National Airlines.

Bye bye to the A340-500

6 October 2015

So Emirates is saying goodbye to its last A340-500. By far the best looking airliner in the fleet.

It may be that the airplane will leave the fleet early morning on 7th October after performing its final rotation to Beirut. There has been no confirmation from Emirates.

The airframe may also have left the fleet on 3 October after its Kabul rotation,

The final flight was originally scheduled tonight with A6-ERE flying EK955/956 to Beirut. Acquired in 2004 the airliner is just 11 years old. Too young and you ahve to assume a considerable write-off for the airline.

© Jerome Chauvin
The announcement to retire the A340-500 fleet was made in 2013. “The high cost of fuel makes the aircraft uneconomic to fly now,” Emirates president Tim Clark told Flightglobal at the that time.

“We’ve taken a big hit to retire them, but their poor economics means there’s no point in flying them,” Clark was quoted as saying. “They were designed in the late 1990s with fuel at $25-30. They fell over at $60 and at $120 they haven’t got a hope in hell.”

Oddly with fuel now at $50 the airliners are probably viable now. The fleet was acquired in 2003/2004. They are by modern standards very young airliners. Sadly there is no obvious second hand market for these airframes beyond a small number that are taken up for royalty/governmental use.

Foul play from EK

6 October 2015

For what its worth I really, really dislike the new Jennifer Aniston ad from Emirates. And I dislike it on so many levels.

Here it is – have a look:

It is clearly a cheap shot at the main US carriers – part of the ongoing feud between the ME3 and the US3.

The ad sees the “Friends” (now-faded) star ridiculed by the cabin crew of an airline when she turns up (at the back of the airplane in economy) wearing a dressing gown, and asks where the shower is. The big reveal at the end is that it was a “nightmare” and she was actually on board an Emirates A380.

Boutros Boutros, Emirates divisional senior vice president of corporate communications, says in a statement: “In a departure from the usual airline industry ads, we chose to take a humorous approach to showcase the amazing products we offer on board. We couldn’t think of anyone better suited for the role than Jennifer Aniston and we wrote the script with her in mind. Her professionalism and comedic talent shone on the set and we are very pleased with the outcome.”

Oh dear – where to start.

First: the campaign costs US$20 million. Ouch. Ms Aniston apparently gets US$5million. She had probably never flown (maybe never heard of) Emirates until her agent told her there was some good money to be made.

Second: I hate celebrity endorsements. Miss Aniston probably did not even know Emirates was an airline until her manager came to her and said she can make some easy money doing an airline ad. I also have no idea why a paid for celebrity endorsement would influence anyone’s choice of airline.

Third: let’s compare like with like. Aniston is wandering into the rear galley of economy asking about a shower. The towel and peanuts gag is clearly aimed at the US airlines. They have big domestic networks where snacks or buy on board are economy catering. But Emirates does not have a domestic network.

Indeed on their international flights the US airlines do not operate a first class. Usually the choice is business, premium economy or economy. Their business products are probably as good as it not better than Emirates – especially the tired 2-3-2 economy seating.

Fourth: the portrayal of American flight attendants is offensive. There are three – how shall I say it – older crew. They are in the galley; eating. They laugh at their customer. This is not the crew that rescued all the passengers from Sullenberger’s stricken A320. For the most part I have found US crews experienced and welcoming. There is only so much they can do with their onboard product. But their experience counts for a great deal when safety becomes an issue.

Fifth: Why antagonise the US carriers? It simply is not a valid comparison The ad simply escalates the war of words. Sell the positive about Emirates. Do not go negative on other airlines.

So Emirates has a shower on board. It is only on the A380s. It is available to just 14 out of 513 passengers on each A380. just 2.8% of the passengers on each flight. And at a cost. A quick search on Emirates.com for a mid-week return flight from New York to Dubai in December yielded a ticket costing $26,950. Yes. That shower will cost you. The same flight in economy class is US$2,200.

I suspect 97% of Emirates passengers will stick with the cheap airfare and hold off on the shower until they land.

If Emirates wants to appeal to US travelers it needs to sell its economy product. Sell the movies and catering; sell the $1 wifi; sell the amount of space on the A380. But dont ever try to tell your economy passenger that the 777 experience is in any way better than long-haul on a US carrier.

Remembering IP Sharp Associates

6 October 2015

Watching the excellent “Halt and catch Fire” takes me back to the mid 1980s and to Reuters 1987 acquisition of IP Sharp Associates.

Halt and Catch Fire is a tv series made by AMC. Set in the 1980s it was a well-informed look into the roots of the technology boom…the dawn of the computer age. The show talked of old IBM mainframes; 3081s and 3090s; of timesharing; of networks and of communities. It was clever – showing how something that in the 1980s was almost hippy-ish has become mainstream. Even in the tv show the issue is funding; experimenting with new toys was far more fun that making money from them.

Which takes me back some 30 years ago to my first visit to IP Sharp Associates in Toronto in February 1986.

I. P. Sharp Associates, IPSA for short, was a major Canadian computer time sharing, consulting and services firm of the 1970s and 80s. IPSA is particularly well known for its work on the APL programming language, an early packet switching computer network known as IPSANET, and a powerful mainframe-based email system known as 666 BOX. It was purchased in 1987 by Reuters, in part for access to the extensive historical information database that the company had built. Reuters kept IPSA until 2005 as a data warehousing center for business data.

IPSA’s eight founders had worked as a team at the Toronto division of Ferranti, Ferranti-Packard, which sold numerous products to the Canadian military and large businesses. In 1964 Ferranti sold off its computing division to International Computers and Tabulators, which almost immediately closed the Toronto office. Ian Sharp, the chief programmer, decided to found his own company, and named it for himself.

The company started with contract programming on IBM System/360 series mainframes, and to some degree took over Ferranti’s former military work. In the early years, IPSA collaborated with its “sister company” Scientific Time Sharing Corporation (STSC) of Bethesda, Maryland, USA, each retailing the same services in their respective countries. IPSA and STSC jointly developed their software. Eventually they devised separate product names. They separated as Sharp APL and APL*Plus.

IPSA sold time on its mainframes by the minute to customers across Canada, and rapidly developed into a major time sharing service in the 1970s. Long before the Internet, IPSA developed IPSANET to provide cheap telecommunications between the Toronto data center and IPSA clients across North America, Europe and eventually to Asia. Packet-switching also made their transatlantic links much more usable, since on previous equipment, frequent “line hits” would produce user-visible errors. As the network grew, and as Sharp APL was available on in-house computers, Sharp clients with their own mainframes could join the network, access their own or the Toronto mainframe from anywhere on IPSANET, and transfer data accordingly. The network eventually provided “Network Shared Variables” that allowed programs running on one mainframe to communicate in realtime with programs on another mainframe. This was used for file transfer and email services.

I. P. Sharp Associates offered timesharing users access to a variety of databases, plus sophisticated packages for statistical analysis, forecasting, reporting, and graphing data. Databases included historical stock market time series data, econometric data, and airline data. All of these were available from the 39 MAGIC workspace, an easy-to-use time series, query, and reporting language, which among other things featured integrated high-quality business graphics from Superplot. In 1982, IPSA produced its first printed catalog of all online databases and proceeded to document for its customers the content and use of single databases or sets of databases.

These databases were of obvious interest to Reuters who provided real time data without the historical analysis.

IPSA was heavily involved in the development of the APL language, eventually employing its inventor, Ken Iverson, in the early 1980s. Roger Moore, a company co-founder and vice-president, won the 1973 Grace Murray Hopper Award for the development of APL\360 (along with Larry Breed and Dick Lathwell). APL\360 was later greatly enhanced and extended to become SHARP APL.

IPSA employed a team of expert APL implementors and contributors in its Toronto head office location, including Ian Sharp, in his role as enabler, Roger Moore, Dick Lathwell, Brian Daly in his role as marketing guy in Toronto, Bob Bernecky, Leigh O. Clayton, Doug Forkes, Dave Markwick, and Peter Wooster. This group was headed by Eric B. Iverson, Ken Iverson’s son. It was affectionately known as the “Zoo” and was very well respected inside and outside the firm. The term “Zoo” is attributed to a visitor from the “establishment” who witnessed the long hair, beards and unconventional dress amongst some of the team. Sharp APL and APL Plus, and variants, were all based on the XM6 IBM program. Further extensive APL development was done in Toronto and elsewhere.

It is perhaps this group that most resembles the creative chaos of the tv show.

Later, in the 1980s, a branch office in Palo Alto, California, managed by Paul L. Jackson, made significant contributions to APL and later J. This office included Joey Tuttle, Roland Pesch, and Eugene McDonnell.

666 BOX, written in APL, was one of the first commercial email services, known colloquially by its users as the “Sharp Mailbox.” The original 666 BOX was written by Larry Breed of STSC. It was later rewritten for higher security by a student hacker from Lower Canada College, Leslie H. Goldsmith. Eventually it was extended to support transferring email among multiple domains (mainframes) over IPSANET.

The timesharing business started to deteriorate in mid-1982, as some key timesharing clients moved their operations from timesharing to in-house Sharp APL. Around that time, IBM started offering smaller mainframe computers, such as the IBM 4300 series, which could be leased for less than the cost of using external services. Clients who did not depend on the network were the first to migrate to small mainframes. Initially, the presence of the IBM PC posed little threat to the timesharing industry as the computing horsepower and storage capacity offered by these small machines was insufficient. As a major slice of Sharp’s business was buttressed by database business, this had the beneficial effect of delaying the eventual downslide. IPSA also started to build value added financial applications such as Instant Link and Blend that made use of the existing network infrastructure.

Reuters purchased I. P. Sharp Associates in 1987, partially for the historical financial data. Ian Sharp continued as president until 1989, when he retired. In 1993, IPSA’s “APL Software Division” was purchased by its employees from Reuters and renamed Soliton. Reuters closed the Toronto facility in 2005.

Timesharing has had a rebirth with the concept of cloud computing and teh need to store, access and use massive amounts of data. Lib Gibson who was one of the Soliton team that acquired Sharp APL from Reuters wrote on her blog of “a pioneering software and network communications company, led by the brilliant and unassuming Ian Sharp.”

Her description of the company can be found in a review of Stev Job’s biography. It maybe a little rose-tinted but it is instructive; “Ian’s penchant for hiring bright people resulted in a company full of them. Like Jobs, many ‘Sharpees’ had dropped out of university (often leaving the US motivated by the Vietnam draft). Like Jobs, some of them had nevertheless earned a BA (brilliant & abrasive) or a BE (brilliant & eccentric). Ian exhibited huge tolerance of eccentric behaviour as long as people were contributing and were respectful of their colleagues and focused on solving customer problems. Jobs’ success arose, at least in part, from the diversity of his interests and his appetite for ingesting ideas from many fields. Ian’s disregard for people’s area of specialization meant that I.P. Sharp was seething with people from diverse backgrounds – computer science as well as education, mathematics, biology, music and many fields. (It was also full of ‘minorities’, because Ian seemed blind to nationality, religion, skin colour, or sexual orientation).”

It was a unique and talented culture. It had also run itself financially into the ground and by 1986 it needed a white knight to re-finance the business.

Reuters mistake was not in buying the company but in trying to fit it into the Reuters geography rather the the business units. IPSA was initially supervised by Reuters America who had no interest in a business when they had not been involved in its acquisition. Existing management was left in place; Reuters was seen as the new banker. It was a year before real change could start and an integration of the businesses could commence.

Of course it is telling that IPSA had a 50th anniversary reunion in 2014. It appears that not one person from Reuters was invited. Given how many of the company’s employers were shareholders they had a lot to thank Reuters for. But memories can be selective.

The York University IPSA online collection is here.

History of I P Sharp Associates Timesharing and Network

Stealin’ All My Dreams: A Modern Day Protest Song

29 September 2015

“I didn’t want to talk about it, so I wrote a song about it.” Greg Keelor

Compelled to add their voice to the chorus of voices protesting Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government, Blue Rodeo has written the modern day protest song “Stealin’ All My Dreams”.

Recorded and filmed on September 9, 2015, the song and video chronicle the failings of the current government and asks the question, “Have you forgotten that you work for me?”

“Blue Rodeo does not always speak with one voice. However we feel collectively that the current administration in Canada has taken us down the wrong path. We do not seem to be the compassionate and environmentally conscious nation we once were. As respectful as we are of the variety of opinions held by our audience, we felt it was time to speak up and add our voice to the conversation.” Jim Cuddy

The song and video are available for free download on BlueRodeo.com. The facts included in the video are also on the site accompanied by articles encouraging the reader to delve further.

The key message to all Canadians is please vote on October 19, 2015. And ideally vote for change.

Stealin’ All My Dreams: A Modern Day Protest Song

Etihad’s Italian job

22 September 2015

Alitalia’s CEO has quit after less than a year on the job.

The Italian carrier has had a long history of turmoil, notably for regular brushes with financial collapse during the past two decades. But Alitalia appeared poised for some rare stability after Abu Dhabi-based Etihad bought a 49% stake in the carrier last year. That was part of a broader partnership and Etihad-backed restructuring of the Alitalia that called for a fleet upgrade and a focus on long-haul routes.

While that effort appears to remain on track, it will now happen under an interim CEO after Silvano Cassano relinquished that same role for unspecified personal reasons, according to the airline. Cassano previously was a top executive at carmaker Fiat and clothing retailer Benetton.

Taking over the CEO duties on an interim basis will be current Alitalia chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, whose past includes a role as the boss of sports car-maker Ferarri. The Associated Press says Alitalia’s chief operations and financial officers will handle the carrier’s day-to-day operations.

The Wall Street Journal mentions Alitalia’s colorful past, describing its history as “littered with rescue plans, including one in 2008 sponsored by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi aimed at avoiding the carrier’s insolvency. Five years later, the Italian government had to orchestrate another rescue plan to avoid Alitalia folding.”

To that point, the Financial Times writes “Cassano’s departure will raise fears that the transition is not going as smoothly as planned when Etihad took its 49% stake.”

Etihad CEO James Hogan said in January that his carrier’s equity partnership with Alitalia represented “the last chance” to save the long-struggling Italian carrier, according to the Times. He added Etihad’s rehab plan for Alitalia would require a “radical change in its way of working to lower costs and boost productivity.”

21 September 2015 Washington Post Editorial Board

Citizens of Thailand would seem to have good reason these days to question the generals who have been running the country since staging a coup in May 2014. They might ask why the junta would have appointed a committee to draft a constitution reflecting its plan for a faux democracy, then induced another council they set up to vote it down, forcing a restart of the process. Thais could wonder, too, why the country’s economy remains stagnant, or why the regime has been so sluggish in responding to a terrorist bombing in central Bangkok last month.

Anyone who asks those sensible questions, however, is likely to be deemed in need of an “attitude adjustment” by the generals’ increasingly erratic leader, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Last week, two opposition politicians were taken into custody after criticizing the government’s economic policies; on Sunday a leading journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk of the newspaper the Nation, was detained. The three were released Tuesday only after signing a commitment not to criticize the military’s political moves.

That would include the generals’ torpedoing of their own constitution. A handpicked committee spent nearly 10 months preparing a charter that would have restored a veneer of democracy while leaving the military in charge. Strict controls on political parties were aimed at preventing any more election victories by followers of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who have won every election in the past 15 years. An appointed senate would have had the power to block legislation, and a “crisis committee” packed with generals would have had the authority to step in and take control of the government any time it deemed it necessary.

As soon as the junta’s drafters completed this authoritarian framework, the junta-created National Reform Council voted it down. Nearly all of the council’s military and police representatives joined the negative vote, apparently acting on instruction from higher-ups. Bangkok analysts wondered what had happened. Did the military perhaps conclude that its constitution had no hope of being approved in a popular referendum? Was it wasting time on purpose, hoping that delay caused by the writing of a new draft would keep the present regime in place long enough to manage the looming transition from ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s most revered figure, to a successor?

As it stands, the elections repeatedly promised by Mr. Prayuth now will not be held until the end of 2016, at the earliest. That means, at best, more stagnation for Thailand, which began the century as a prosperous and promising democracy; at worst it could trigger an explosion of unrest and more terrorism. Anyone who dares to point that out inside Thailand, however, is likely to be subjected to a forced “attitude adjustment.” Asked who else might be arrested, Mr. Prayuth told reporters that “everyone whose comments cause division” was a potential target.

“If you let them blame me, the people and society will listen to them every day, and one day they’ll believe in the things they say,” warned the junta leader. We suspect many already do.

Qatar 777 takes out approach lights on Rwy 27 at MIA

17 September 2015

Two days ago a Qatar Airlines Boeing 777-300, registration A7-BAC performed flight QR-778 from Miami,FL (USA) to Doha (Qatar). The airplane departed Miami’s runway 09 but struck the approach lights for runway 27 during departure. Both tower, departure controllers as well as crew maintained routine communication. The aircraft continued to destination for a landing without further incident about 13.5 hours later.

Those are the bare details.

The facts will no doubt come out in a more detailed NTSB report; which no doubt Qatar will try to sugar coat.

But there are two key facts here. 1: The airplane entered the runway at taxiway T1 and therefore had just 2,600metres rather than the full 3,900metres available. 2: Despite damage to the airplane that was described as substantial the airliner continued its 13 hour over water flight to Doha.

The airplane left from Gate D14 at Miami Airport at 20:18 hours local time; it would have been just dark at that time. The aircraft taxied via taxiway Sierra and entered runway 9 at taxiway T1 for departure. Runway length available from this point was about 2610 m. The full length of the runway is 3,900 metres.

The underbelly of the aircraft impacted the approach lighting system runway lights during takeoff at 20:32 hours. The approach lighting system was located 2950 m from the point where the aircraft entered the runway.

On Sep 17th 2015 the FAA reported the aircraft struck approach lights on departure from Miami and continued to destination. The FAA reported that an inspection revealed damage that was described as substantial damage to its belly; the occurrence was rated an accident.

Related NOTAMs:
09/160 (A3018/15) – RWY 27 ALS U/S. 16 SEP 18:28 2015 UNTIL 16 OCT 20:00 2015 ESTIMATED. CREATED: 16 SEP 18:28 2015

09/159 (A3017/15) – RWY 27 ALS U/S. 16 SEP 17:55 2015 UNTIL 16 OCT 20:00 2015. CREATED: 16 SEP 17:55 2015

With a full fuel load for a 14 hour flight the airplane would have been near its MTOW; the take off distance available from T1 was insufficient. QR has Boeing Class 3 EFBs (electronic flight bags) fitted in all of their 777s, used for takeoff/landing performance, charts etc.

So was the full length 09 not available? Did they base their numbers off full length and then end up departing from T1? Why did they accept a T1 departure; it is clearly mid runway?

It does look like the crew calculated full length RWY09 with ~3900m TODA available. And ended up taking off with from T1 (fact) with just 2600m of pavement available.

This could easily have ended a lot worse. The crew would have seen the end of the runway rushing towards them; did they push the throttles to TOGA? There are pictures of the damaged lights on PPRUNE; the NOTAM suggests they will be out of action for a month. And the airline would have crossed over the freeway at barely 100′.

Yet the crew carried on as though nothing happened and appear not to have communicated the incident with ATC.

Of course this will not get even a mention in the Qatari media.

Thailand Suffers As Military Plans To Extend Control: Junta Delivers Oppression, Not Happiness

12 September 2015 Doug Bandow in Forbes Magazine

Thailand long has been the land of smiles, a friendly, informal place equally hospitable to backpackers and businessmen. But politics has gotten ugly in recent years. Now a cartoonish dictator out of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera runs a not-so funny junta which jails opponents and suppresses free speech. The bombing of a popular Hindu shrine in Bangkok should act as the famed fire bell in the night: if terrorism becomes a tactic by the disaffected life in Thailand could generate far more frowns than smiles.

In May 2014 General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power. He claimed to have “a democratic heart,” and his junta promised happiness, prosperity, and security. But the regime has failed on all three counts. Those denied political rights and civil liberties, and especially those arrested and jailed, obviously aren’t happy. Only those now ruling, or with friends among those ruling, have reason to smile.

The generals also found that economic forces do not yield to military dictates. Growth has slowed and forecasts for the future have fallen. A recent analysis called the country’s economic outlook “fragile with risks skewed to the downside.” Poor economic performance led to a cabinet reshuffle, with two new generals added. A government spokesman declared: “We can say the challenges we faced are bigger than all previous governments.” Military rule only makes it worse.

The response of the authorities to the recent Bangkok bombings has not been reassuring. With the investigation yielding few answers, officials advanced and dropped various theories before threatening anyone circulating “false information” and causing “public confusion and fear.” General-Prime Minister Prayuth suggested that the police watch the New York police drama “Blue Bloods” for help: “They will get tips, ideas and insights into their case.” (Apparently he is not aware of “CSI” and “Law and Order.”) After making their first arrest of a suspect, yet to be named or charged, the police claimed$84,000 in reward money for themselves.

The regime may use the bombing as an excuse not only to punish its critics, but also to extend its rule. General Prayuth originally explained his seizure of power as necessary “in order for the country to return to normal quickly,” with new elections to be held within 15 months—which would have been last month. Then the junta shifted the date to February 2016. Now 2017 is more likely. However, the military might hang onto power until it can manage the expected royal transition from the revered, but aged and ill, king to the healthier but less respected crown prince.

Head of the National Council for Peace and Order and army chief, General Prayut Chan-O-Cha (C), arrives prior the opening of the National Legislative Assembly in Bangkok on August 7, 2014. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Generalissimo Prayuth’s rule has been bizarre from the start. The regime claimed the result of seizing power was neither coup nor junta. The regime followed George Orwell in creating the National Council for Peace and Order. Years ago the neighboring Burmese junta called itself the similarly misleading State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Despite General-Prime Minister Prayuth’s claim to support democracy, in March he declared: “Our country has seen so much trouble because we have had too much democracy.” In fact, he betrays a touch of comic megalomania. On taking power the newly minted dictator declared that happiness had returned to Thailand. He penned a song for the people’s edification and appears weekly in a self-absorbed TV show which all stations are forced to carry.

He believes he should be beyond criticism. Last week he ranted against those who urged rejection of the draft constitution, written to keep the military and its allies in power. Legislators ousted by the junta had “no right” to comment. “These people, now that they are being harsh to me, I will have to be harsh in return,” the disgruntled dictator declared. While he said he wouldn’t ban them from speaking, “when the time comes, I will deal with them.”

Last December he complained that newspapers “made me lose my manners and have ruined my leader image.” He added: “I will shut them down for real. I cannot allow them to continue their disrespect. Otherwise, what’s the point of me being” prime minister and declaring martial law? Irritated with a journalist’s question, he stated: “Do you want me to use all of my powers? With my powers, I could shut down all media … I could have you shot.” Hopefully he wasn’t serious. However, Mr. “Shut-Up-Or-Else” often has surrendered to his inner autocrat.

Freedom House reported that the coup pushed Thailand backwards from “partly free” to “not free,” with a reduction in civil liberties and especially political rights. Human Rights Watch observed: “One year after seizing power, Thailand’s military junta has used dictatorial power to systematically repress human rights throughout the country. The regime has “prosecuted critics of military rule, banned political activity, censored the media, and tried dissidents in unfair military courts.” While the Thai military has not been as brutal as its Burmese counterpart, today people in Burma arguably are freer than those in Thailand. A parliamentary election is scheduled for November and there are fewer restrictions on speech and the press in Burma.

For almost a year Generalissimo Prayuth ruled through martial law. On April 1 the junta replaced martial law with equally repressive measures under the interim constitution, drafted by the military for the military. The regime declared that whatever it does is “completely legal and constitutional.” Amnesty International noted in June: “Thai authorities continue to arbitrarily detain and imprison individuals, prevent or censor meetings and public events, and otherwise suppress peaceful dissent.”

The military quickly cowed the media, knocking TV and community radio stations off the air. Those eventually allowed to continue were ordered to avoid politics. Print publications were instructed not to criticize the military. Doing so resulted in threats of prosecution.

The generalissimo’s men blocked more than 200 websites, including the HRW page for Thailand. In August the regime indicted a critic for allegedly spreading false information about General-Prime Minister Prayuth on the internet.

The government is prosecuting two online journalists for criminal libel (defamation) for a 2013 report detailing military involvement in human smuggling. A group of human rights organizations warned that “the use of the Computer Crime Act in this case is also particularly troubling, especially since this appears to be the first time that one of the services of the Thai armed forces has ever used the CCA against journalists.” The judge dismissed reliance on the CCA yesterday, but the navy said it may appeal.

Public meetings require government consent, which typically is not granted to critics. The regime has prevented around 70 public meetings, including academic events, involving political issues. For instance, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights planned a meeting to release its report on human rights violations by the junta, but the military banned the event as “likely to cause disturbance.”

Since taking control the Prayuth dictatorship has arrested or detained more than 1,000 people, including student protestors, opposition politicians, independent journalists, and even critical academics. Many were summoned for “attitude adjustment” through TV or radio announcements; failing to respond risked prosecution, causing some of those targeted to go into exile. The last elected prime minister was charged with criminal negligence for what most democracies recognize as typical pork barrel politics.

Many arrested have been held incommunicado, which, warned HRW, increases “the risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill treatment.” Indeed, there have been scores of credible claims of torture, but human rights activists reporting on those cases have been punished.

Thais released, noted AI, continue “to be subjected to conditions imposed on them upon release, including restrictions on their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and movement. They will face prosecution should they breach the conditions.” Some 700 have been tried in military courts, noted for neither independence nor fairness. This process continues, observed Amnesty: “for acts that have been criminalized in violation of Thailand’s human rights obligations, including participation in peaceful gatherings and carrying out other peaceful acts of expression.”

The government banned anything seen as a political protest. Public gatherings of five or more are prohibited, but when people meet in smaller groups in protest they also face arrest. Thais have been detained for standing, eating, wearing black on the king’s birthday, playing the French (revolutionary) national anthem “La Marseillaise,” applying duct tape to their mouths, making the Hunger Games three-finger salute, reading George Orwell’s 1984 in public, wearing t-shirts with political slogans and messages seen as political, holding blank paper, displaying papers and placards with anti-coup messages, selling products with former prime minister Shinawatra Thaksin’s face, talking to journalists, aiding arrested protestors, and distributing a poem on democracy.

Students usually take the lead in the few demonstrations which still occur. On the coup’s May 22nd anniversary more than 40 protestors were arrested. One group went to Bangkok’s Arts and Cultural Centre and stood staring at a clock. For this act 20 people were arrested and roughly treated—one ended up with a dislocated cornea, another with a damaged spine. Three other activists were detained for planning to file a criminal complaint against the generals for staging the coup. Protests elsewhere resulted in additional arrests. All face prosecution for illegal assembly, with potential sentences up to seven years in prison.

The generalissimo and his cronies ordered university staff to prevent any political activity on campus. Much like the Egyptian military dictatorship, the regime instructed college administrators and education bureaucrats to monitor and restrict student protests.

The junta has dramatically increased use of Thailand’s oppressive lese-majeste laws. The military is employing these abusive measures to halt even modest criticism in the name of “national security.” FH explained: “The charges have been used to target activists, scholars, students, journalists, foreign authors, and politicians.” There were only two pending prosecutions when the military took control; now there are at least 56 cases. Moreover, lese-majeste prosecutions are being tried in closed door military courts, with the verdict preordained. Two recent cases, involving Facebook messages, resulted in sentences of 28 and 30 years after guilty pleas.

Overall, AI warned of “an atmosphere of self-censorship and fear” compounded by legal restrictions, prosecutions, and “informal pressure and public threats by authorities, including the prime minister, against media and civil society who voice criticisms.” Private violence backs the junta. Warned FH: “attacks on civil society leaders have been reported, and even in cases where perpetrators are prosecuted, there is a perception of impunity for the ultimate sponsors of the violence.”

Nothing will change in the future if the generalissimo and his apparatchiks have their way. For years a business-royalist-military-bureaucratic elite controlled Thai politics, putting its interests before that of the rural poor, who were expected to accept their unfortunate lot in life. That changed with the 2001 election of Thaksin (as he is commonly known), shocking members of a ruling class who forthrightly insisted on their right to hold the majority in political bondage. There is much to criticize in his rule, from self-dealing to abusive-policing, but his opponents were most angered by the fact that they no longer ruled. Thaksin’s success triggered an extended, sometimes violent political struggle highlighted by two coups, the first in 2006. Then the military’s rewrite of the constitution failed to prevent his allies from again taking power. Obviously Generalissimo Prayuth doesn’t want a repeat performance.

Reducing state power and decentralizing government authority would be the strategy most likely to enable antagonistic Thai factions to live together in relative political peace. But that path never was considered by the generalissimo and his cronies. The regime established three military-appointed bodies to make laws and draft a new constitution: National Legislative Assembly, National Reform Council, and Constitution Drafting Committee. The proposed constitution, submitted by the CDC to the NRC for its vote on September 6, is designed to prevent, not advance, democracy. Explained Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Japan’s Kyoto University: “The military is now trying to put in place an infrastructure through constitutional drafting to ensure that even when it is forced out of power, it could continue to control Thai politics.”

Niran Pitakwatchare, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, complained that “This charter draft is a step back from empowering the people because it gives the state a firmer grip and deprives people of the rights they earlier enjoyed.” Even some of the politicians once expected to benefit from military intervention oppose the draft constitution. Nipit Intarasombat, deputy leader of the anti-Thaksin Democrat Party, warned that the document would “give unlimited power to that government.”

The proposal immunizes the junta for all crimes committed. Elections would be orchestrated to fracture votes and encourage coalitions over single party government. The draft provides for the possibility of an unelected prime minister. There would be a largely appointive Senate. Technically non-partisan but overtly biased administrative and judicial organs, such as the Anti-Corruption Commission and Constitutional Court, would continue their role to destroy democratic movements such as Thaksin’s. The military would dominate the new National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee, which would allow the armed forces to intervene in a crisis.

The military’s readiness to manipulate the system is evident from its unwillingness to provide justice for the bloodshed of 2010. Noted HRW, after seizing power the junta expedited action against Thaksin supporters accused of violence. In contrast, “despite clear photographic and other evidence, only a handful of violent crimes committed by” the military have been investigated. Generalissimo Prayuth appears determined to transform Thailand into what once was said of Prussia—an army possessing a state rather than a state possessing an army.

The NRC could reject the proposed constitution and the people could vote it down in a planned referendum. But then the military would remain in charge and appoint another panel to draft another constitution, which likely would be no better than the one rejected. This rigged process could go on for years.

Yet further repression would sap the junta’s already declining legitimacy. Worse, it would encourage violent resistance. After all, by insisting that he cannot be criticized, held accountable, or removed by the people, Generalissimo Prayuth risks convincing Thais that violence is their only option. It is an alarming prospect for a country surrounded by countries which have been overwhelmed by conflict.

After the coup the U.S. blocked some aid, disinvited Bangkok from maritime maneuvers, and scaled back the annual “Cobra Gold” exercise. The Obama administration also publicly urged a return to democracy, earning criticism from the regime for having “negatively affected the reputation of the country.” But newly confirmed ambassador Glyn Davies, previously responsible for North Korea, is expected to reaffirm Washington’s support for liberty. Such efforts would be most effective if coordinated with likeminded Asian and European democracies. The generalissimo and his supporters obviously can ignore such foreign “interference.” But then they should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Former U.S. defense attaché Desmond Walton warned that criticism “threatens to undermine one of the Obama administration’s signature foreign-policy initiatives, the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.” In particular, he worried that Thailand “offers U.S. forces the only reliable access point to mainland Asia.” However, rising Asian powers should take the lead in balancing against China. The U.S. certainly has no reason to get involved in a conflict on the Asian mainland. Moreover, Bangkok is not likely to follow Burma’s mistake in becoming a veritable satellite of China, which eventually encouraged the Burmese military to reverse course and open to the West. Anyway, an unpopular junta run by an unstable general is a dubious pillar for U.S. security policy.

It’s tempting not to take Thailand’s blustering generalissimo seriously. Noted HRW’s John Sifton: “Prayuth seems genuinely flabbergasted by his critics. To hear him tell it, the junta has not seized power, don’t want power, haven’t exercised power, and don’t understand why anyone fails to understand their motives and explanations in not seizing power and not wanting it while holding it all the same. It really is like Alice in Wonderland.”

Unfortunately, in the Thai version the slightly mad Queen of Hearts not only bosses people around but jails them. So far no one has lost his or her head, but if opposition rises, and especially if it grows violent, that might change. The longer the generals and their cronies rule, the less likely Thailand is going to enjoy stable democracy.

Jeremy Corbyn – the possible reinvention of new Labour

12 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the British Labour party, in a stunning first-round victory that dwarfed even the mandate for Tony Blair in 1994.

Corbyn won with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who trailed on 19%, and Yvette Cooper who received 17%. The “Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall came last on 4.5%.

Strange events are abroad in British politics. In May the Labour Party lost an election in which, under Ed Miliband, it was generally considered too far left of voters. In the race to replace him Mr Corbyn, a veteran socialist (and teetotaller), has outperformed his three opponents, and his own expectations, energising the party’s grass roots and inspiring thousands of new members to join up. He commands the support of more local branches than any of his rivals, the endorsements of the country’s two biggest trade unions and a lead among Labour’s overall selectorate.

He is the guy next door that you could have a debate with down the pub; maybe disagree with; but still be pals. he would not look, or sound, out of place in The Last of the Summer Wine. (BBC tv comedy for anyone who needs to google it!).

Minutes after his victory, Corbyn said the message is that people are “fed up with the injustice and the inequality” of Britain.

“The media and many of us, simply didn’t understand the views of young people in our country. They were turned off by the way politics was being conducted. We have to and must change that. The fightback gathers speed and gathers pace,” he said.

The north London MP is one of the most unexpected winners of the party leadership in its history, after persuading Labour members and supporters that the party needed to draw a line under the New Labour era of Blair and Gordon Brown.

Having been catapulted from a little-known member of parliament to leader of the opposition, he will now set about apologising for the Iraq war and strongly opposing cuts to public services and welfare. He will start off on Saturday with a speech to a rally in London in support of refugees.

Addressing the party’s new members who helped propel him to victory, he said: “Welcome to our party, welcome to our movement. And I say to those returning to the party, who were in it before and felt disillusioned and went away: welcome back, welcome home.”

Corbyn also launched a forthright attack on the media, saying its behaviour had been at times “intrusive, abusive and simply wrong”.

“I say to journalists: attack public political figures. That is ok but please don’t attack people who didn’t ask to be put in the limelight. Leave them alone in all circumstances,” he said.

In generous tributes to the other candidates, he applauded Burnham for his work on health, Kendall for her friendship during the campaign and Cooper for helping to shape the political narrative on Britain taking more refugees.

The new leader concluded by saying the poorest were suffering a terrible burden of austerity and have seen their wages cut or are forced to rely on food banks under the Conservatives.

“It’s not right, it’s not necessary and it’s got to change,” he said. “We go forward as a movement and a party, stronger, bigger and more determined than we have been for a very long time … We are going to reach out to everyone in this country, so no one is left on the side, so everyone has a decent place in society.”

Throughout his speech, Corbyn stressed that he would be inclusive, in comments designed to allay the fear of centrist MPs that they may no longer have much of a place in his party.

Attention will now turn to who serves in Corbyn’s top team, with MPs such as John McDonnell, Angela Eagle, Sadiq Khan, and possibly leadership rival Burnham tipped for key roles.

The difficulty of this task was underlined as Cooper, the shadow home secretary, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, became the first to say they would not serve. Jamie Reed, a shadow health minister, published his resignation letter on Twitter while Corbyn was still speaking.

Corbyn’s victory is all the more remarkable because he started as the rank outsider, behind rivals Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, and only scraped on to the ballot paper when about 15 Labour MPs lent him their votes in order to widen the debate.

Initially, the odds of him winning were around 100-1, but his campaign was boosted when he won the support of two of the biggest unions, Unite and Unison, and became the only candidate to vote against the Conservatives’ welfare bill while the others abstained.

His biggest challenge will be uniting the Labour MPS who overwhelmingly backed other candidates by 210 to 20. He is basically a lightweight backbencher propelled into the hottest seat in the party,

During his three decades in parliament, Corbyn has spent much of his time championing causes such as the Stop the War coalition, campaigning against the private finance initiative and supporting peace efforts in the Middle East.

In the campaign, he promised to give Labour members a much greater say in the party’s policymaking process, in a move that could sideline MPs. His key proposals include renationalisation of the railways, apologising for Labour’s role in the Iraq war, quantitative easing to fund infrastructure, opposing austerity, controlling rents and creating a national education service.

But turning the clocks back 50 years is no solution. So far Corbynism appears to be less about creating something new and more about how to shore up an old status quo; reinstatement over reinvention.

Corbyn appears to have engaged younger voters. They deserve ideas responding to the convulsions—digitisation, automation, globalisation—through which they are living. Others on the left are thinking big about these. A post capitalist world, that has embraced trends like free information (think Wikipedia) and the “sharing economy” (think Airbnb), along with the explosion of data and networks that they symptomise, may need a very different form of government.

The Tory reaction was predictable: Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, giving the Conservative Party’s reaction, said: “Labour are now a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security.

“Whether it’s weakening our defences, raising taxes on jobs and earnings, racking up more debt and welfare or driving up the cost of living by printing money – Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will hurt working people.”

The good news; at least British politics may become interesting again.

Curiouser and curiouser

Thailand spins in circles as the generals’ friends vote down their draft constitution

11 September 2015 The Economist

Only the wildest optimists still believe that Thailand’s military junta, which seized power in a coup last year, intends to step down soon. A farce that played out in the Parliament House in Bangkok on September 6th has made that even plainer. In a televised vote following a cheesy group photo, a junta-backed National Reform Council voted to abandon a proposed new constitution which a junta-backed set of drafters had spent ten months drawing up. The decision starts a new drafting process, which will take another seven months at least. There is little chance of fresh elections until at least 2017, and possibly long after that.

When the generals launched their bloodless coup during political unrest in May 2014 they promised to “bring happiness back to Thailand”. The draft constitutional framework was supposed to usher that in. Its authors, doing the junta’s bidding, came up with a set of rules which allowed for elections but neutered the victors. The draft seemed designed to produce weak governing coalitions able to be bossed about by higher powers. It would have introduced a largely appointed senate. And it removed a requirement that the prime minister be elected.

A last-minute addition to the draft was the naming of an extraordinary committee tasked with ensuring that future elected governments stick to the social and economic reforms which the junta says it is putting in place. The two-dozen bigwigs to serve on this committee would have included heads of the armed forces and police, as well as former trusted prime ministers and other assorted bureaucrats. The committee would have been entitled to snatch power from elected politicians whenever two-thirds of its number agreed that it had cause.

The members of the National Reform Council were appointed from across Bangkok’s monied classes. Some may have blanched at backing such a lopsided set-up. Despite warnings from the junta not to comment, the draft had been roundly blasted not only by the populist Pheu Thai party—which held power before the army’s coup—but also by the Democrats, the party which Thailand’s elites traditionally favour.

Many others on the council, however, may have voted against the unpopular draft because they recognised it had no chance of winning the public referendum which the junta had stipulated. The requirement that the draft had to be approved by half of all eligible voters, not a majority of votes cast, seemed an impossibly tall order. It may have been laid down in haste and error. Yet the politicking that would have preceded a vote would have merely underscored the social rifts that the junta claimed to set out to heal when it took power. And a referendum defeat would greatly dent the junta’s standing.

Yet the final blow to the constitution, and the most curious, appears to be that the army itself lost interest in it. Thirty of the 33 members of the security establishment who sit on the council voted against the proposed charter, reportedly under instruction from their superiors. One interpretation is that the junta’s hardliners, having tested the appetite for the kind of “managed” democracy they appeared to believe in, decided that the easier path was to maintain their direct rule.

Perhaps the process was intended to be a time-waster from the start. The failure to produce a new constitution that is even vaguely palatable to Thais is another sign that the generals may be digging in for the long run—shades of the military rule that Thailand endured in the 1950s and 1960s. They are searching for a magic touch as the economy slows—it grew by just 1.6% at an annualised rate in the second quarter. In August the junta pushed aside its chief economic adviser. Strangely, his replacement is Somkid Jatusripitak, a former deputy prime minister in the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, which was toppled in a previous coup in 2006. Mr Somkid is the architect of many of the populist policies that first incited Mr Thaksin’s opponents in the establishment to oust him.

Meanwhile the junta’s response to last month’s deadly bombing outside a popular shrine in central Bangkok—a direct challenge to the generals’ assurance that they can best keep Thailand safe—has also underwhelmed. Days after the attack bystanders were still finding shrapnel and even human remains at the site. And it looked odd that a police commander celebrated the first arrest of a suspect by giving the investigating officers a cash reward. Two men, said to be Turkish and Chinese citizens, have been detained in connection with the attack, which some think may have been carried out in revenge for Thailand’s decision to deport ethnic Uighurs to China, where they face persecution. Authorities have pooh-poohed talk of international terrorism, claiming that the culprits may be people-smugglers retaliating against a crackdown.

The next step with the constitution is for the generals to appoint a new batch of lawyers. They will have six months to produce a fresh draft. Yet nothing guarantees that they will come up with anything more appealing. And the process will certainly be interrupted, or indeed completely abandoned, in the event of the death of Thailand’s ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who at 87 is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. The junta is presumed to be extremely keen to control a potentially turbulent succession. On September 7th palace officials said that the sovereign was recovering from a chest infection that had been diagnosed a few days earlier. For now the mood in the country inclines toward jitteriness. That same morning some Thais thought that a meteor, which exploded dramatically in the sky, had to be a worrying omen.

We are all to blame for Europe’s refugee crisis

7 September 2015 Al Arabiya

Modern media can be a rather terrible thing: an assault on one’s senses. Then again, perhaps sometimes we ought to suffer the effect of that, while being totally aware of what we are getting ourselves into. Because it appears we suffer another effect at present: being oblivious to the suffering and destruction visited upon the noble and beautiful people of Syria.

Fifty years ago, we would not have been able to see the gruesome killings carried out by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or the chemical attacks against civilians, blamed by much of the world on the Syrian regime. As human beings, the more we see such things up front and personal, the more we become normalized to it and see it as ordinary.

That has an effect on the human psyche that we should not underestimate. I do not want my children’s generation to look at images of horror, except to recoil in horror and be motivated to do something about it. The more we see such images, however, the more they become typical to us.

For that reason, I have not wanted to look at pictures of young Syrian refugees, especially Aylan Kurdi, the toddler who drowned en route to Europe, trying to escape the ravages of war in a rubber dinghy. In that same rickety craft, according to reports, was his five-year-old brother Galip, his mother Rihan, and 10 more people. We do not have pictures of them.

Much is being made of the fact that these refugees felt they had to take a rubber dingy, rather than be allowed access to European states on the basis of suffering a tremendous humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Criticism is being levelled at Europe for treating the refugee crisis with such callousness, making it ever more difficult for refugees to reach our shores, and more likely that hundreds and thousands will die in the process. Such criticism is wholly justifiable, because European politicians are far concerned about not receiving more migrants than they are about dealing with this humanitarian crisis.

Some politicians appear happy to allow the southern-most states to bear the brunt of ‘dealing’ with the issue (and they are not dealing with it well), rather than turn this into a Europe-wide issue that requires a Europe-wide response – a response that would make successive generations proud of ours rather than ashamed of it.

However, there are two greater criticisms to be made. There is a reason why European states are the destination for these refugees: because they do not think they have many other places to go. If they manage to get to Europe, they believe, they may not be treated well, but if they make the trip they will have a way to survive.

These refugees are Syrians. They are part of the Arab world – they come from its heart. Some countries in the region have accepted a substantial number of refugees. Turkey, which is not part of the Arab world, hosts almost 2 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon has more than a million, and Jordan almost 750,000. However, within the richest parts of the Arab world – the Gulf states – the number of Syrian refugees is embarrassingly low.

There are more Syrian refugees in Brazil – across the Atlantic Ocean – than there are in most Gulf states. Even small countries such as Armenia or Austria have accepted more Syrian refugees than most Gulf states, which have far more wealth. How can that be?

In 100 years, will historians note that ‘Arab unity’ meant Syrians were unable to find refuge in the most affluent Arab countries, and had to flee elsewhere, often many thousands of miles away? Is that the legacy that is to be inherited?

There is another criticism to be made – not simply of Europe or the Arab world, but of the international community. Kurdi’s life ended tragically, but the international community could have avoided such an outcome. The refugee crisis is part of the humanitarian crisis, beyond which is the state in which the people of Syria find themselves.

This terrible conflict has raged for four years, and will be marked as the great and awful disaster of our generation. How great the human cost, and how little effort from the international community to confront it. Syrians have suffered from the tyranny of President Bashar al-Assad, the extremism of ISIS, and the unwillingness of the international community to truly deal with both.

As we gaze at the pictures of young innocence like those of Kurdi, let us remember that we could have saved him and many others. Will we allow his death to pass us by, after the likes and shares on social media? The people of Syria deserve far better than that.

Great nations are built by refugees and immigrants

7 September 2015

Last Friday I overheard a couple of people at the airport FBO talking about the refugee problem. They were not being generous.

Which is strange in a great nation built on 200 years of immigration.

I suggested that it may in fact be a refugee opportunity; not just for the countries that welcome the refugees but also to rebuild nations like Syria so that their people do not want or need to leave.

I was not taken very seriously.

Every day our news broadcasts are showing scenes of Syrian refugees struggling toward safety — or in the case of Aylan Kurdi, 3, drowning on that journey.

How did this start and where does responsibility lie. The Iraq war destabilized Syria to some degree, but Syria might have blown up anyway. It was a minority-run dictatorship that had repressed previous blow-ups (e.g. Hama 1982), and with the Arab Spring, Syrians were inspired to protest–and then Assad started massacring people, so it became a civil war. Assad’s repression then led to the rise of IS. The USA did not start this but like other nations the USA does have a moral responsibility to help where it can. And the USA is not the only country that has made little effort to date.

In in a nation of immigrants – be it Canada or the USA or Australia or some of Europe, if you don’t see yourself or your family members in those images of today’s refugees, you need an empathy transplant.]

It took a little boy’s broken body washed up on a Turkisg beach to make the plight of the refugees into front page news.

Aylan’s death reflected a systematic failure of world leadership, from Arab capitals to European ones, from Moscow to Washington. This failure occurred at three levels:

■ The Syrian civil war has dragged on for four years now, taking almost 200,000 lives, without serious efforts to stop the bombings. Creating a safe zone would at least allow Syrians to remain in the country.

■ As millions of Syrian refugees swamped surrounding countries, the world shrugged. United Nations aid requests for Syrian refugees are only 41 percent funded, and the World Food Program was recently forced to slash its food allocation for refugees in Lebanon to just $13.50 per person a month. Half of Syrian refugee children are unable to go to school. So of course loving parents strike out for Europe.

■ Driven by xenophobia and demagogy, some Europeans have done their best to stigmatize refugees and hamper their journeys. That said other Europeans have been rearkable in both generosity and accpetance.

This is not a massive invasion; about 4,000 people are arriving daily in a continent with more than half a billion inhabitants. This is manageable, if there is political commitment and will.

We all know that the world failed refugees in the run-up to World War II. The U.S. refused to allow Jewish refugees to disembark from a ship, the St. Louis, that had reached Miami. The ship returned to Europe, and some passengers died in the Holocaust. The world also failed its refugees after the war. A grim and little told story.

Aylan, who had relatives in Canada who wanted to give him a home, found no port. He died on our watch.

Then there are the Persian Gulf countries. Amnesty International reports that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates haven’t accepted a single Syrian refugee (although they have allowed Syrians to stay without formal refugee status). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s bombings of Yemen have only added to the global refugee crisis.

Assimilating refugees is difficult. It’s easy to welcome people at the airport, but more complex to provide jobs and absorb people with different values. Of course the real solution isn’t to resettle Syrians but to allow them to go home. People want to return to live in their homes.

In the meantime it would be generous to remember that some of the world’s great nations have been built by immigrants.

The Refugee Crisis Isn’t a ‘European Problem’

5 September 2015 – The New York Times – Michael Ignatief

Those of us outside Europe are watching the unbelievable images of the Keleti train station in Budapest, the corpse of a toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, the desperate Syrian families chancing their lives on the night trip to the Greek islands — and we keep being told this is a European problem.

The Syrian civil war has created more than four million refugees. The United States has taken in about 1,500 of them. The United States and its allies are at war with the Islamic State in Syria — fine, everyone agrees they are a threat — but don’t we have some responsibility toward the refugees fleeing the combat? If we’ve been arming Syrian rebels, shouldn’t we also be helping the people trying to get out of their way? If we’ve failed to broker peace in Syria, can’t we help the people who can’t wait for peace any longer?

It’s not just the United States that keeps pretending the refugee catastrophe is a European problem. Look at countries that pride themselves on being havens for the homeless. Canada, where I come from? As few as 1,074 Syrians, as of August. Australia? No more than 2,200. Brazil? Fewer than 2,000, as of May.

The worst are the petro states. As of last count by Amnesty International, how many Syrian refugees have the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia taken in? Zero. Many of them have been funneling arms into Syria for years, and what have they done to give new homes to the four million people trying to flee? Nothing.

The brunt of the crisis has fallen on the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Iraqis and the Lebanese. Funding appeals by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have failed to meet their targets. The squalor in the refugee camps has become unendurable. Now the refugees have decided, en masse, that if the international community won’t help them, if neither Russia nor the United States is going to force the war to an end, they won’t wait any longer. They are coming our way. And we are surprised?

Blaming the Europeans is an alibi and the rest of our excuses — like the refugees don’t have the right papers — are sickening.

Political leadership from outside Europe could reverse the paralysis and mutual recrimination inside Europe. The United Nations system to register refugees is overwhelmed. Countries like Hungary say they can’t resettle them all on their own. The obvious solution is for Canada, Australia, the United States, Brazil and other countries to announce that they are willing to send processing teams to Budapest, Athens and the other major entry points to register refugees and process them for admission.

Countries will set their own targets, but for the United States and Canada, for example, a minimum of 25,000 Syrian refugees is a good place to start. (The United States’ recent promise to take in 5,000 to 8,000 Syrian refugees next year is still far too small.) Churches, mosques, community groups and families could agree to sponsor and resettle refugees. Most of the burdened countries — Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Italy — would accept help in a heartbeat. Once these states take a lead, other countries — including those wretched autocrats in the Gulf States — could be shamed into doing their part.

So why are our leaders — President Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Dilma Rousseff — doing so little? Resettling refugees, they fear, will trigger an even greater exodus, and they don’t know how their teams could handle the chaos that would result. Tough, resourceful management — clear quotas for Syrian refugees (especially those with young families), simplified procedures and a commitment to airlift people out quickly — could solve these problems.

Most of all, however, leaders aren’t acting because no one back home is putting any pressure on them. Now, thanks to heart-sickening photographs, let’s hope the pressure grows.

This is a truly biblical movement of refugees and it demands a global response. If governments won’t help refugees escape Syria, smugglers and human traffickers will, and the deadly toll will rise.

Once the Europeans know that their democratic friends are ready to take in their fair share, it will become easier for them to take theirs, and the momentum might emerge to reform the 1951 Refugee Convention, so that all those fleeing civil war, state collapse and murderous militias will get the same protection as those fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution.

Let’s remember that we used to be able to rise to the occasion. My country, Canada, sent a government minister to Vienna in late 1956 to support a processing center that took in hundreds of Hungarians and airlifted them to Canada after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising. The Hungarians themselves seem to forget that they, too, were once refugees. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States received hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people. There were voices, on both occasions, that warned, this will trigger a flood. It did — and what excellent citizens these Vietnamese and Hungarians have been.

The Vietnamese and Hungarians were fleeing Communism. What’s holding back sympathy for the Syrians? They’ve been barrel-bombed in Aleppo by their own regime, they’ve been tortured, kidnapped and massacred by miscellaneous jihadis and opposition militias. They’ve been in refugee camps for years, waiting for that cruelly deceiving fiction “the international community” to come to their aid. Now, when they take to the roads, to the boats and to the trains, all our political leaders can think of is fences, barbed wire and more police.

What must Syrians, camped on the street outside the Budapest railway station, be thinking of all that fine rhetoric of ours about human rights and refugee protection? If we fail, once again, to show that we mean what we say, we will be creating a generation with abiding hatred in its heart.

So if compassion won’t do it, maybe prudence and fear might. God help us if these Syrians do not forgive us our indifference.

Michael Ignatieff is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Thailand Suffers As Military Plans To Extend Control: Junta Delivers Oppression, Not Happiness

4 September 2015 – Forbes Magazine

Thailand long has been the land of smiles, a friendly, informal place equally hospitable to backpackers and businessmen. But politics has gotten ugly in recent years. Now a cartoonish dictator out of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera runs a not-so funny junta which jails opponents and suppresses free speech. The bombing of a popular Hindu shrine in Bangkok should act as the famed fire bell in the night: if terrorism becomes a tactic by the disaffected life in Thailand could generate far more frowns than smiles.

In May 2014 General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power. He claimed to have “a democratic heart,” and his junta promised happiness, prosperity, and security. But the regime has failed on all three counts. Those denied political rights and civil liberties, and especially those arrested and jailed, obviously aren’t happy. Only those now ruling, or with friends among those ruling, have reason to smile.

The generals also found that economic forces do not yield to military dictates. Growth has slowed and forecasts for the future have fallen. A recent analysis called the country’s economic outlook “fragile with risks skewed to the downside.” Poor economic performance led to a cabinet reshuffle, with two new generals added. A government spokesman declared: “We can say the challenges we faced are bigger than all previous governments.” Military rule only makes it worse.

The response of the authorities to the recent Bangkok bombings has not been reassuring. With the investigation yielding few answers, officials advanced and dropped various theories before threatening anyone circulating “false information” and causing “public confusion and fear.” General-Prime Minister Prayuth suggested that the police watch the New York police drama “Blue Bloods” for help: “They will get tips, ideas and insights into their case.” (Apparently he is not aware of “CSI” and “Law and Order.”) After making their first arrest of a suspect, yet to be named or charged, the police claimed$84,000 in reward money for themselves.

The regime may use the bombing as an excuse not only to punish its critics, but also to extend its rule. General Prayuth originally explained his seizure of power as necessary “in order for the country to return to normal quickly,” with new elections to be held within 15 months—which would have been last month. Then the junta shifted the date to February 2016. Now 2017 is more likely. However, the military might hang onto power until it can manage the expected royal transition from the revered, but aged and ill, king to the healthier but less respected crown prince.

Stephen Harper wants a fourth term as prime minister. He faces a tough fight

29 August 2015 The Economist

The hard-nosed, frontiersman’s personality of Stephen Harper has dominated Canadian politics for a decade. However it turns out, therefore, the federal election on October 19th will be fateful. If the Conservative prime minister wins a fourth consecutive term in office, he will be the first leader to do so since 1908. If he loses, it will be the end of an era, and what comes next will be very different. The election might well bring to power the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP), which has never governed Canada before.

To forestall that prospect, Mr Harper triggered the campaign earlier than he had to. On August 2nd he asked the governor-general to dissolve parliament, giving his Conservative Party 11 weeks to put its case to the voters. That is double the length of recent election campaigns.

He needs the extra time. The slogan emblazoned on the Conservative campaign bus is “Safer Canada/Stronger Economy”. Although the country feels relatively secure, its economy is hardly vigorous. As the world’s fifth-largest producer of oil, Canada has been hurt by the collapse in prices. The economy contracted in the first five months of 2015. Confidence among consumers and small businesses is sinking. The Conservatives may break their promise to balance the budget after seven years of deficit. All this has handed a cudgel to the opposition: the NDP and the centrist Liberals.

The politician best placed to wield it is Thomas Mulcair, who leads the NDP. Formed in 1961 from a merger of socialist and union groups, the party has governed five provinces but was thought to lean too far left to win a federal election. That changed in May, when it won power in Alberta, Mr Harper’s political home, ending four decades of rule by the Progressive Conservatives, a provincial party much like the prime minister’s. The Conservatives’ fortress in western Canada no longer looks impregnable. Polls suggest that the Conservatives and the NDP are running neck and neck, with the Liberals trailing.

The NDP would bring change, though just how much is unclear. It would raise taxes on big companies and makes vaguer promises to support the manufacturing sector. It would finance 1m child-care places rather than support families directly, as the Conservatives have done. Mr Mulcair, a veteran of Quebec provincial politics, has proved himself a political scrapper. As leader of the opposition in the House of Commons, he has exploited ethical lapses under the Conservatives. The campaign may offer more opportunities: the trial of a senator in an expenses scandal is likely to embarrass the ruling party, even though he resigned from the Conservative caucus in 2013. But the hot-tempered Mr Mulcair has yet to show that he is prime-ministerial material. He fluffed his answer to an easy question about corporate taxes, and has sent confused messages about whether he supports an east-west pipeline to transport Alberta crude.

Similar doubts surround the other opposition contender, Justin Trudeau. A year ago he seemed likely to win. That would have been a return to normality: the Liberals governed Canada for most of the 20th century, most memorably under Mr Trudeau’s, father, Pierre. But Conservative adverts attacking the son as inexperienced proved effective (even though, at 43, he is just three years younger than Mr Harper was when he became prime minister). Mr Trudeau hurt his standing with civil libertarians by backing tough security legislation proposed by the government while promising to soften it after winning the election. In an attempt to win back support from left-of-centre voters, he is advocating the legalisation of marijuana and the imposition of a price on carbon (also backed by the NDP). His relative youth may appeal to ballot-shy younger voters.

Two-thirds of Canadians say they want a change of government. Mr Mulcair has offered to govern in coalition with the Liberals, if necessary, to bring that about; Mr Trudeau has so far been cool to the idea.

Despite the anti-incumbency mood and the weak economy, Mr Harper brings formidable weaponry to the contest. He has been building the country’s most effective political machine since 2003, when he united Canada’s various right-leaning parties under the Conservative banner. He imposed iron discipline on three successive governments, the first two of which lacked a majority in the House of Commons. Backbenchers were kept in line, rivals disposed of. Luck played a part in Mr Harper’s longevity. The Liberals put up ineffectual leaders in earlier elections and the commodity boom spared Canada the worst effects of the financial crisis. But Mr Harper’s skill mattered as much.

Now, with characteristic belligerence, he has seized the initiative. By calling the election early, he has silenced unions and other anti-government groups, which had launched a barrage of hostile adverts in preparation for the poll. Now that the campaign is officially on, they will be subject to much stricter spending limits than parties. The Conservatives, meanwhile, can ramp up spending; they have more cash than the NDP and the Liberals.

Mr Harper will use it to appeal to the groups he has assiduously courted throughout his time in office, such as Ukrainian immigrants and Jews. On a campaign stop in Mount Royal, a largely Jewish area of Montreal, he flaunted his support for Israel and criticised Muslim women who veil their faces at citizenship ceremonies (though the Conservatives are generally pro-immigration). The economy may be wobbling, but Conservatives will ask: can Canadians really trust the excitable Mr Mulcair, or the callow Mr Trudeau, to steady it? The race may be long; it is unlikely to be boring.

Coups and constitutions

29 August 2015 New Mandala By Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang –

Under Thailand’s new constitution, the military does not have to carry out a coup d’état; the coup has already been written in to law.

Last Saturday, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) concluded its duties, releasing the second and final draft of Thailand’s constitution.

After the release of the first draft in April, the CDC collected comments from the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the National Reform Council (NRC) to make a revision of the draft. Reading through the final draft reveals notable changes, many of which have major implications.

The upcoming constitution is divided into four main parts; the rights and liberties of Thais; electoral politics; the rule of law, the judiciary, and watchdog agencies; and reform and reconciliation.

The first part resembles that of its 1997 and 2007 predecessors. It covers all standard human and civil rights. However, in contrary to the first draft, it is less enthusiastic on the idea of building a good citizen.

Although the text still demands a long list of desirable behaviors, the CDC abandoned the controversial National Ethics and the Citizen councils, which had been assigned the duty of screening the ethical standard of political office holders.

The second part, elections and public administration, remains largely unchanged from the previous version. MPs will be elected from the Mixed-Member Proportional electoral system to ensure more chances for smaller parties to get in, hence a more fragile government.

The Senate is half-elected and half-nominated. Nomination is complicated because nominees come from different sources; high-ranking civil servants and military top brasses, representatives of professional guilds and non-governmental organisations, and ethical experts from various fields. The prime minister, despite heavy public criticism, still need not be from an election.

More interesting is the third part concerning the rule of law and judicial review. In April, the CDC proposed that, for better transparency, the judicial commission that oversees administration, promotion, and disciplinary action of judicial personnel, shall consist of no less than one-third of non-judge members. The proposal stirred huge backlash and the CDC had to retreat.

The uproar stemmed from the fear that more layperson membership would allow political influence in the administration of justice. The judiciary was successful in warning the CDC, quite harshly, how sensitive the judicial institution feels toward any threat to its independence, no matter how trivial that threat may be.

In general, the judicial turf remains unchanged or even expanded.

In an attempt to avoid populist policies, the constitution draft commands the Administrative Court to establish a new division of fiscal and budgetary disciplines.

All watchdog agencies are placed under the title “the Constitutional Agency to Audit the Exercise of State Power.” Interestingly they are stripped of the word “independent” once given to them by the 1997 Constitution where they first appeared.

The strangest change in the second draft is the combination of a nomination committee of these watchdog agencies. In contrast to the 2007 Constitution, which heavily involved the judiciary in the nomination process, the current draft tried to re-balance by introducing representatives from both sides in the parliament as well as a rector from a public university and a president of local councils.

But the nomination committee also requires a representative from the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry, and Banking. This committee is a tri-partite panel consisting of the Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industry, and the Thai Bankers Association. This might indicate increasing influence from powerful business corporations, many of which are part of the elitist network that funds the anti-Shinwatra movement and the present junta.

Originally the CDC decided to merge the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Ombudsman into the new rights protecting body. While the NHRC protested that the decision failed to conform to the international standard, the public saw this as a punishment the NHRC deserved for its inertia and bias over previous political crises. Finally, the CDC changed its mind and kept the two as separate bodies.

The CDC also added more severity to an impeachment. An impeachment automatically revokes the political rights of a convicted politician for five years already. But if an impeachment is based on the likelihood of corruption, that politician shall be barred from taking a political office permanently according to the final draft.

The fourth part, where the draft draws most criticisms, is titled “Reform and Reconciliation.” To begin with, the reconciliation chapter is no longer in the Constitution. It shall be described in the organic law on reconciliation which will be prepared by the NLA.

The CDC then made a radical change in the reform blueprint. The first draft created by the National Reform Council consisted of several experts from various fields to spearhead the reform task. The second draft reassigned the duty to the National Strategic Reform Commission (NSRC) in which all commanders of the army, navy, air-force, and police sit alongside experts whom the NLA appoints.

This NSRC is similar to a politburo that oversees and controls the elected government. It has the power to initiate reform policies that constitutionally oblige successive governments. Worse, if the NSRC deems that the country is in crisis, after a consultation with the President of the Constitutional Court and the President of the Supreme Administrative Court, it can intervene “as necessary.”

The language is worryingly vague so it draws no limits to the exercise of this ultimate power. Moreover, this emergency power receives absolute impunity under the new Constitution. The NSRC is then perceived by the public as an attempt by the junta to linger on after a general election. Under the new constitution, the military does not have to carry out a coup d’état because the coup has already been written in to law.

Because the CDC operated in secrecy, no one reliably knows the true explanation for each change in the final draft. But it seems that the moralistic constitution pleased no one, so in order for the draft to be approved, the CDC had to be less radical. It has to compromise to the wishes of those independent bodies and its “employer,” the junta.

Details are delegated to the NLA to decide in a form of organic laws as well as ordinary statutes. The only major resistance now is from the three main political parties, which realise that their victory in the next election will be meaningless.

Although it becomes less obsessed with moral absolutism, the constitution draft reflects more obviously the wish of the elites to entrench their power in Thai politics. It contains several flashpoints for political deadlocks and manipulation.

At the moment, the fate of the constitution draft depends on the NRC. If the NRC accepts the draft, it will proceed to the referendum in early 2016. If not, the CDC will be disbanded and the junta must appoint another commission to draft another one. That will delay the junta’s roadmap to return democracy to this country.

But the junta should be worry-free. Whatever the vote result will be, these soldiers will haunt Thai politics for years to come.

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang is a constitutional law scholar in Thailand.


23 August 2015

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

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

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

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

Bangkok Bomb at Religious Shrine Kills at Least 19

17 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shuffling the pack won’t improve Thailand’s hand

5 August 2015 The Nation editorial published 28 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England v Pakistan – schedule

28 July 2015

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

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

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

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

The nuclear deal’s other winner

25 July 2015 The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


25 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airbus confirms plans for next gen A380 superjumbo

25 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up close with Pluto

16 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolding going where no space probe has gone before.

All change in the Middle East?

16 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

A deal – and now for the hard work

13 July 2015

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

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

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

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

And that is the short simplified version.

How damaged is eurozone and EU by Greek debacle?

13 July 2015 – Robert Peston, Economics editor, BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unappealing facts are these.

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

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

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

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

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

Is that democracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greece – again

13 July 2015

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

Where are we now: it is midnight in Dubai:

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

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

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

We may know more in the morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are so many more issues at stake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happens Europe will never be the same.

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

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

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

Eurogroup draft on demands for Greek reforms

12 July 2015 Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

  • fully comply with the medium-term primary surplus target of 3.5 percent of GDP by 2018, according to a yearly schedule to be agreed with the institutions;
  • carry out ambitious pension reforms and specific policies to fully compensate for the fiscal impact of the Constitutional Court ruling on the 2012 pension reform and to implement the zero deficit clause;
  • adopt more ambitious product market reforms with a clear timetable for implementation of all OECD toolkit I recommendations, including Sunday trade, sales periods, over-the-counter pharmaceutical products, pharmacy ownership, milk, bakeries. On the follow-up of the OECD toolkit II, manufacturing needs to be included in the prior action;
  • on energy markets, the privatization of the electricity transmission network operator (ADMIE) must proceed, unless replacement measures can be found that have equivalent effect, as agreed by the institutions;
  • on labor markets, undertake rigorous reviews of collective bargaining, industrial action and collective dismissals in line with the timetable and the approach suggested by the institutions. Any changes should be based on international and European best practices, and should not involve a return to past policy settings which are not compatible with the goals of promoting sustainable and inclusive growth;
  • fully implement the relevant provisions of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, in particular to make the Fiscal Council fully operational;
  • adopt the necessary steps to strengthen the financial sector, including decisive action on non-performing loans, transposition of BRRD and measures to strengthen governance of the HFSF and the banks;
  • develop a significantly scaled up privatization program with improved governance. A working group with the institutions shall provide proposals for better implementation mechanisms;
  • amend or compensate for legislation adopted during 2015 which have not been agreed with the institutions and run counter to the program commitments;
  • implement the key remaining elements from the December 2014 state of play of the fifth review of the second economic adjustment program.”

Inside the most expensive boarding school in the world

By Harry Mount Daily Telegraph 26 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly, this rarefied elite ends up forming close bonds.

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

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

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

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

6 July 2015 Owen Jones in The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 July 2015 – The Guardian editorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to being mothers says the FA

6 July 2015

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

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

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

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

Audioseal @AudioSeal1

  Why did you stop at daughters

  @england ? Sisters nieces 
  aunts cousins 2nd cousins friends godmothers sister-in-laws wives 

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

Steven Jones @MrStevenJones


  @england Tweet was quite 
  unbelievable. Like something from a

  @BritishPathe newsreel in the 
  1940s not from 2015! 

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

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

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

6 July 2015 The Guardian editorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koh Tao murder trial

2 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Torture made us admit killing British pair’

28 June 2015 The Sunday Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


29 June 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not a hard list to understand.

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

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

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

US Open golf thoughts

22 June 2015

Jordan Spieth triumphed at Chambers Bay by a stroke in one of the most dramatic finales ever witnessed at a major championship. Dustin Johnson had a 72nd-hole putt to win but proceeded to take three from 12ft, handing the 21-year-old Spieth the title.

Spieth has already won the Masters this year. A genuine talent.

But the real story is the golf course. The location is stunning. You’ve got Puget Sound, the old gravel quarry remains, the trains that come by and some incredible elevation changes. It is a long course, with some severe climbs and descents, a young golfers’ course; not a course for the old guys and Woods and Mickleson were among the non-contenders.

But what a strange, tricked-up venue. It is a new course built to host the US Open and it was like crazy golf on steroids. The greens were horrible. The good news – it was the same for everyone and the course still brought the best golfers to the top. Holes 1 and 18 were alternately par 4s and par 5s….make your mind up time.

But it was grim to watch….not helped by the appalling Fox coverage and announcers who could not find a word that was not the USGA line while putts bobbled sideways. And it was not much better for the spectators at the course. There are even five holes that spectators cannot walk. Who wants to be at a golf tournament where you cannot follow your favorite players for a round.

But years from now, Chambers Bay’s most important legacy may be the fact it was the first completely made-for-TV major championship in golf history. And Fox blew it.

“It’s pretty much like putting on broccoli,” said Henrik Stenson. It looked like that texture and colour.

Ian Poulter did not hold back:

“I look forward to congratulating the 2015 US Open Champion very soon, I simply didn’t play well enough to be remotely close. This is not sour grapes or moaning or any of that crap. It simply the truth.

Mike Davis the head of the @USGA unfortunately hasn’t spoke the truth about the conditions of the greens. I feel very sorry for the hundreds of greens staff who spent countless hours leading into this week and this week doing there best to have it the best they could and I thank them for that. But look at the picture. This was the surface we had to putt on.

It is disgraceful that the @USGA hasn’t apologized about the greens they simply have said. “we are thrilled the course condition this week”. It wasn’t a bad golf course, In fact it played well and was playable. What wasn’t playable were the green surfaces. If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won’t do that for a major. They were simply the worst most disgraceful surface I have ever seen on any tour in all the years I have played. The US Open deserves better than that. And the extra money that they have earn’t this year from @FoxSports, they could easily have relayed the greens so we could have had perfect surfaces.

Simply not good enough and deeply disappointing for a tournament of this magnitude. I don’t like it when people lie on camera to try and save face. And to all you fans that paid good money to try and watch us play golf but couldn’t see anything on most holes because it wasn’t possible to stand on huge slopes or see around stands, I apologize and I’m sorry you wasted your money traveling to be disappointed. I hope we all learn something moving forward to not have these problems in the future. Happy Fathers Day.”

Of course there are plenty (mainly American) who accuse Poulter of sour grapes as he did not win and has not won a major.

US golfer Chris Kirk was stronger: “The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history. The @usga should be ashamed of what they did to it this week.” So stop the abuse pf Poulter – there are plenty of unhappy golfers; Horschel, Villegas and McDowell were all on twitter. Rory McIllroy said simply “if they can come back in about 20 years’ time, I’d be ok with that.” He would be 46.

Horschel is worth quoting: “It sounds like the players are whining and complaining. We’re not looking for perfect greens. . . . But we’re looking for something that’s consistent, and this week they’re not. The only two that are good are 13 and 7, and 10 is not too bad. I hit a lot of great putts that bounced all over the world. [The fourth green] is god awful. That hole is in dirt. There’s no grass around that hole.”

Horschel said he has heard USGA officials defending the greens by saying they’re better than they look on television. But he added, “That’s a complete lie.”

There is also part of me that says why should these molly-coddled walking billboards (also known as golfers) by spoiled by immaculate conditions every time that they play.

But there was too much down to luck, or lack of it, this week. And that is not how one of the four majors should be played.

Qatar Airways less than impresses on profit figures

22 June 2015

The chief executive of Qatar Airways said last week that his airline made a net profit of $103 million in its last financial year (to 31 March 2015), disclosing for the first time a figure for its annual earnings, which are being closely watched by carriers in U.S.

In the same financial year Emirate made AED4.6 billion (US$1.25Billion) or over 10 times the Qatar air profit.

The government-owned airline does not publish full audited financial results but has repeatedly said that it will report earnings amid claims by U.S. carriers that it is subsidized by its gas-rich owners.

“We are not afraid to [publish earnings] we are a private company,” Akbar Al Baker said in an interview. “But I can tell you our last year profit for the financial year was $103 million.”

Qatar and Etihad have also been accused of lacking transparency as they don’t publish full audited financials.

In a short statement last month, Etihad said that it recorded a net profit of $73 million in its last financial year. Emirates reported a net profit of $1.2 billion on revenues of $24.2 billion.

According to Qatar crew there was no profit share paid to staff.

Mr. Al Baker did not disclose revenues earned at Qatar Airways in its financial year, which runs from April through to the end of March.

At a guess I estimate that the Qatar Airways revenues are about 1/3 of the Emirates revenue which suggests a profit of just US$103 million on revenues of about US$8 billion. Given the financial advantages enjoyed by Qatar at its Doha hub that profit figure does suggest pressure on yields.

Thailand’s ICAO red card

18 June 2015

Q. What do the following countries have in common: Thailand, Angola, Botswana, Djibouti, Eritrea, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malawi, Nepal, Sierra Leone & Uruguay.

A. They are the 13 nations that have been red-flagged by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICASO) for failing to address significant safety concerns.

Thailand had been given a 90-day grace period to address issues arising from the January 2015 ICAO audit.

In a classic case of “maaih phen rai” there have been more words than actions. Typical of the “we-are-not-taking-this-seriously-enough” attitude the former director-general of Civil Aviation Department, Mr Chaisak Aungsuwan, said that the placing of red-flag was not a matter of serious concern as concerned Thai authorities have been trying to solve the problem.

THAI president Charamporn Jotikasthira added that ICAO’s red-flagging indicated the Civil Aviation Department’s safety oversight failure but it did not mean that air navigation services, airlines, airports and aircraft of Thailand were substandard.

Just not as safe as the other 177 nations that have not been red-flagged.

Why does this matter – the red flag could lead to a string of reevaluations of Thai aviation facilities across the international community.

The earlier ICAO way warning already led to Japan and South Korea banning some chartered flights (temporarily lifted during April and May for Thailand’s high travel season), as well as increased inspections of Thai registered aircraft by the international aviation community.

The red flag for the Thai DCA may now spark the interest of other international aviation agencies, namely the United States Federal Aviation Administration (US FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), to conduct their own assessments.

An EU blacklist on Thai airlines could see European authorities warning its citizens to not fly on Thai based airlines. Any loss of goodwill will further put Thai full service carriers at a disadvantage with emerging Middle Eastern competitors, which in the past few years have positioned themselves by offering premium services in an acceptable price range.

If downgrades and bans are prolonged, higher operating costs and limited growth will worsen airline competitiveness.

During the downgrade period, airlines will not be allowed to expand their current level of services, meaning a carrier may not be able to increase its frequency on existing routes or establish new routes to countries in which it has been blacklisted.

The red flag may also result in higher operating costs from higher aircraft lease rates, more stringent maintenance covenants, and surges in insurance premiums, which led to the airline’s lower profitability; not good news for already struggling Thai airlines.

Reinstatements of air safety credentials could take at least 4 years and require joint efforts from the private sector and government. The reinstatement to Category 1 for the Philippines, Israel, and India taking at least 4 years on average.

Public statements of confidence should be hiding significant concerns behind the scenes and the need to take real action quickly.

Hong Kong’s two fingered salute to Beijing

17 June 2015

The Hong Kong government’s controversial Beijing-backed election reforms have been defeated by pro-democracy lawmakers.

This comes at the end of a year of turmoil in the city.

The so-called reform which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to vote for their leader for the first time but required that candidates be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

Currently the city’s chief executive is elected by a 1,200 member election committee dominated by pro-Beijing members.

In a surprise move pro-government lawmakers walked out of the legislature before the vote, leaving the chamber filled with mostly opposition lawmakers, who had vowed to reject the plan. The vote was 28 against and eight in favor, with 34 not voting. The vote would have required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The rejection of the reform proposal was a victory for pro-democracy legislators who stuck to their pledge to reject the plan. The group had come under pressure from Beijing, which said they could be held to account for their votes. It was a serious defeat for Hong Kong’s government, which was forced to promote Beijing’s plan despite opposition in Hong Kong.

“We used our sacred vote today to veto a fake universal suffrage proposal,” Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator, told reporters after the vote. “We helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing that we want real choice. This isn’t the end of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. A new chapter starts today”.

For the Chinese government, the defeat was a blow to its effort to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. And it was a rare defeat for the country’s Communist Party.

The rejection was a vindication for the thousands of protesters who spent three months blocking the city’s streets to object to the election-reform plan. The protests exploded last fall after Beijing presented the plan and drew global attention to the city’s fight for democracy.

The vote came after a day of acrimonious debate where lawmakers accused one another of damaging the city and hurting its relationship with Beijing. Some called for a period of healing to improve the relationship.

The Hong Kong government has said political reform would be off the table if the current package is rejected.

The Chinese National People’s Congress had passed a resolution in 2014 stating that Hong Kong could choose its chief executive in a popular vote on condition there were no more than three vetted candidates. That, in essence, is China’s definition of democracy…a vote that China could control.

Beijing is fond of pointing out that nowhere else in China enjoys the sort of freedoms that Hong Kong does, and consequently feels like the parent of a particularly petulant child that is never satisfied.

The child responded today and said that the parent needs to do better!

The MERS effect on daily life in Seoul

9 June 2015

It did seem quiet in Seoul at the weekend and local news reports confirm that the rising fear of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) changed the weekend plans of many across the country.

Many places, such as movie theaters and shopping malls, saw a significant drop in visitors. Many people chose to stay at home, navigating online malls for their shopping needs.

Revenues at retail chain stores fell dramatically. According to the association of retail chain companies, the revenue decline was more evident during the weekend.

Outdoor activity venues also suffered.

On Saturday, Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul attracted 12,301 LG Twins fans (including me) for its game, down more than 5,000 from the average number of fans for a weekend game. The story was similar for public parks, mountains and beaches.

Movie theaters were also empty throughout the weekend. Industry insiders said ticket sales last weekend dropped almost 20 percent compared with the previous weekend.

Numbers showed that a lot of these people at home spent times shopping, online or by phone.

According to E-mart Mall, an online shopping outlet, its revenue between June 1-6 rose by almost 60 percent from the previous year. Immune system boosters and diet supplements were popular items, it said.

With new cases still being reported and Hong Kong, Chinese and other tour groups canceling their programs it is likely that Seoul will be even quieter this weekend.

NokScoot flies but it is less than awesome

8 June 2015

There are some good airlines but only one that is awesome cries out the NokScoot advertisements.

Clearly nonsense – truly misleading. It is a low cost no frills carrier that at the moment flies just one scheduled route.

The airline, a joint venture between Thailand’s Nok Air and Singapore’s Scoot had something of a ‘soft’ launch on 20 May when the airline (IATA code XW) operated its first scheduled flight between Bangkok Don Mueang (DMK) and Singapore (SIN). The airline’s daily service on the 1,442-kilometre route will be flown by its 777-200s and faces direct competition from Thai AirAsia (42 weekly flights) and Scoot (daily flights). In addition, the airline faces indirect competition from five more carriers (Cathay Pacific Airways, Jetstar Asia, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Tigerair Singapore) who between them operate around 20 daily flights between Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and Singapore.

NokScoot was established in late 2013. The start-up secured an air operators’ certificate (AOC) from the Thailand DCA in Oct-2014 but prior to the 20-May-2015 Bangkok-Singapore launch only operated a limited number of charter flights.

After securing its AOC NokScoot lodged applications with authorities in China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore for foreign air carrier permits authorising scheduled flights. The original plan was to begin with scheduled services to Japan in late 2014, to be quickly followed with flights to Korea and China. Singapore was always considered a back-up as the market was seen by the NokScoot management team as intensely competitive and oversupplied.

But NokScoot encountered multiple delays in securing approvals from China, Japan and South Korea. While it was able to begin charter flights to Japan and South Korea in 1Q2015, in early 2015 it pushed back its target launch date for scheduled flights to May-2015.

In early Mar-2015 NokScoot was confident it was finally close to securing approvals from China and South Korea and therefore began selling Nanjing and Seoul flights. Nanjing was initially announced as a thrice weekly service beginning 5-May-2015 while Seoul was initially sold as a thrice weekly service beginning 10-May-2015, increasing to daily from 1-Jun-2015.

In Mar-2015 NokScoot also filed schedules indicating a daily Bangkok-Narita flight from 16-May-2015 and a four times weekly Bangkok-Osaka flight from 22-May-2015. But it never began selling either of these routes.

In late Mar-2015 NokScoot’s plans for South Korea and Japan suddenly unravelled after authorities from both countries decided to prohibit any new flights from Thai carriers until Thailand’s DCA resolved issues raised by ICAO from a Jan-2015 safety audit. NokScoot immediately cancelled the 10-May-2015 launch of Seoul and suspended plans for Japan. As CAPA wrote in Apr-2015: “The new restrictions from Japan and South Korea on Thai carriers could not have come at a worse time for NokScoot as it was close to securing final approvals from authorities in both countries.”

NokScoot has been able to continue operating charter flights to Japan but Japanese authorities have only approved these ad hoc flights through the end of May-2015 as part of a temporary waiver from the ban prohibiting new flights from Thai carriers until the ICAO issues are resolved. The lack of any scheduled routes has resulted in extremely low utilisation of NokScoot’s assets, which now consists of three 415-seat 777-200s.

Incidentally Singapore Air has just 288 seats in its three class configured 777-200s which gives you a good clue as to how cramped is the NokScoot all economy configuration.

NokScoot is now expected to launch Nanjing by mid-Jun-2015.

Being able to proceed with Nanjing is a major milestone for NokScoot as it should make it easier to pursue other China routes and, potentially, approvals from other countries. But the CAAC for now will not consider additional routes from NokScoot. The airline will have to make do with the initial three weekly flights to Nanjing and hope after it has operated the route for a few weeks it can convince the CAAC to authorise more routes

So how is the airline doing on its Singapore route: this flight report from the inaugural run to Singapore suggests an experience that was far less than awesome: NokScoot Inaugural Trip Report 2015

“In conclusion, this NokScoot flight was a major disappointment and actually displayed that it was not quite ready for a full operation. Thankfully the load was light, as I was truly not sure if the F/As were ready for a full load. Given they had already done some charter flights, I was surprised how the F/As were still unfamiliar with selling food and duty free items. I presume that there might be some free food included in the charter flights. The F/As were trying their best, but most of the times they were spent learning about all these machines and procedures. In some way, I think NokScoot should have started with the Singapore flights first and slowly moved towards long haul. In some ways, I felt that NokScoot knew that they were not ready, so they did not do anything about this inaugural and made a bad show in front of the press.

Sadly, after this inaugural flight, most news about NokScoot continued to be bad, as it was obvious that these Singapore flights were not making money. …There were many angry tweets and Facebook posts, as NokScoot was not doing a good job in informing passengers and offering alternatives to passengers on these canceled flights. For some reasons, the agents were pushing passengers to accept travel vouchers. Really, you want passengers to accept travel vouchers on an airline, which cannot receive authority to start long haul flights and has difficulty maintaining a reliable schedule on one single two hours flight to Singapore….I finally decided to cancel my Nanjing trip because it was obvious that they were not ready for the Nanjing flight, and the Singapore inaugural was such a poor experience that I did not want to waste any more money and time on an airline that shows little care.

Less than awesome.

Watford’s new manager and some more changes

8 June 2015

So Watford have appointed the former Atlético Madrid coach Quique Sánchez Flores as their manager.

He is a good appointment but why another manager – our fifth in a year.

The club had been in talks to extend the contract of Slavisa Jokanovic, who took Watford to promotion to the Premier League. But Slavisa simply wanted too much money and Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, have been very careful in managing club finances.

As part of the new coaching set-up, Dean Austin will remain on the staff, having returned to the club in January as part of Jokanovic’s backroom team, while Flores is to be assisted by Alberto Diaz and Antonio Carlavilla.

A statement on Watford’s website read: “Watford FC would like to take this opportunity to thank former head coach Slavisa Jokanovic, along with assistants Ruben Martinez and Javier Pereira, for an outstanding contribution to the success of the club. The Hornets wish all three men well for their future careers.”

Jokanovic also sent a message to Watford following confirmation of his departure.

He wrote on Twitter: “Thank you to Watford FC fans, players and staff for their support during this season. I’m proud to have had the chance to help put this club back where they truly deserve to be. I wish you all the best in the future.”

The Hertfordshire club has already made moves to strengthen the squad, with the free transfer signing of the Austrian defender Sebastian Prodl and Lithuanian goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis.

Korea and Thailand – a 1997 comparison

8 June 2015

In the early 1990s the economic world marveled at the remarkable productivity levels being achieved by countries in the Far East. Like Japan before them, the “Asian Tigers” went from low-technology, agricultural economies to industrialized and sometimes high-tech economies in a surprisingly short period of time. Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong led the group with their high-tech industries while Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand followed with their rapid industrialization. By the mid-1990s, however, the U.S. economy was healthier than ever (achieving rapid growth with low inflation) while the burgeoning Asian economies were showing signs of slowing. For some of these Asian countries, this slow-down was evidence of far more than a typical downturn in the business cycle. By the summer of 1997, fundamental cracks in the financial structures of these countries had manifested themselves through, among other things, investment panics and currency devaluations. The countries hardest hit by this “Asian Crisis” were Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Korea.

Eighteen years ago, on July 2nd 1997, Thailand’s central bank floated the baht after failing to protect the currency from speculative attack. The move triggered a financial and economic collapse that quickly spread to other economies in the region, causing GDP growth rates to contract precipitously, bankrupting companies that had overexposed themselves to foreign-currency risk, and ultimately necessitating costly and politically humiliating IMF-led bailouts in the worst-affected countries.

This was the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. South Korea and Thailand were the worst hit Asian nations. One has boomed. One continues to struggle.

Among the key conditions in 1997 were the presence of fixed or semi-fixed exchange rates in countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea; large current-account deficits that created downward pressure on those countries’ currencies, encouraging speculative attacks; and high domestic interest rates that had encouraged companies to borrow heavily offshore (at lower interest rates) in order to fund aggressive and poorly supervised investment. Weak oversight of domestic lending and, in some cases, rising public debt also contributed to the crisis and made its effects worse once the problems had begun.

If factors such as exchange-rate policies had helped to precipitate the financial crisis, above all it was excessive and poorly supervised foreign borrowing that made it so disastrous. As it became too expensive to fend off speculators, currencies were forced to float. This resulted in large falls in the baht, the won and other currencies against the US dollar.

Panicked capital flight only exacerbated the currency depreciation, leaving indebted companies in even direr straits. The workout of the bad debts and disposal of the distressed assets created by the crisis was one of the major tasks for policymakers for several years thereafter.

In Korea the 1997 crisis was not triggered by the fall of the won that came under severe attack in October, nor by the investment panic that developed in November and December. It was instead triggered in early 1997 by a series of bankruptcies of large chaebols that had heavily borrowed in previous years to finance their investment projects. By mid-1997, eight of the top thirty chaebols were bankrupt. The string of bankruptcies started with Hanbo Steel in January, then Sammi Steel in March and the Jinro Group in April. In July, the Kia Group, the eighth largest chaebol, failed to pay $370 million worth of liabilities and was put under fiscal protection by the government. This string of corporate bankruptcies and financial difficulties in 1997 led to serious financial difficulties for the banks that had heavily borrowed abroad to finance the investment projects of the failed chaebols. A number of these financial institutions were effectively bankrupt by the spring of 1997.

In late November 1997, following the dramatic plunge of the Korean won on the foreign exchange market, a team of IMF economists was rushed to Seoul to negotiate the terms of a massive bail-out package with the design of restoring health and stability to the Korean economy. In close consultation with IMF negotiators, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank also sent their own teams of economists. A World Bank package with stringent conditionalities on financial governance was announced on December 18th. The IMF put together a $60 billion bail-out package for Korea; it was painful medicine but South Korea has also been one of the most diligent countries in implementing post-crisis economic and financial reforms, and it is now reaping the rewards of these efforts. The country’s financial sector is one of the region’s strongest, combining greater openness with better regulation.

Meanwhile from 1985 to 1996, Thailand’s economy grew at an average of over 9% per year, the highest economic growth rate of any country at the time. Inflation was kept reasonably low within a range of 3.4–5.7%. The baht was pegged at 25 to the U.S. dollar.

On 14 May and 15 May 1997, the Thai baht was hit by massive speculative attacks. On 30 June 1997, Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said that he would not devalue the baht. This was the spark that ignited the Asian financial crisis as the Thai government failed to defend the baht, which was pegged to the basket of currencies in which the U.S. dollar was the main component, against international speculators.

Thailand’s booming economy came to a halt amid massive layoffs in finance, real estate, and construction that resulted in huge numbers of workers returning to their villages in the countryside and 600,000 foreign workers being sent back to their home countries. The baht devalued swiftly and lost more than half of its value. The baht reached its lowest point of 56 units to the U.S. dollar in January 1998. The Thai stock market dropped 75%. Finance One, the largest Thai finance company until then, collapsed.

Without foreign reserves to support the U.S.-Baht currency peg, the Thai government was eventually forced to float the Baht, on 2 July 1997, allowing the value of the Baht to be set by the currency market. On 11 August 1997, the IMF unveiled a rescue package for Thailand with more than $17 billion, subject to conditions such as passing laws relating to bankruptcy (reorganizing and restructuring) procedures and establishing strong regulation frameworks for banks and other financial institutions. The IMF approved on 20 August 1997, another bailout package of $2.9 billion.

By 2001, Thailand’s economy had recovered. The increasing tax revenues allowed the country to balance its budget and repay its debts to the IMF in 2003, four years ahead of schedule. The Thai baht continued to appreciate to 29 Baht to the U.S. dollar in October 2010. It has now weakened to around 33 to 34 Baht.

MERS Impact

8 June 2015

South Korea said on Monday that 23 more people have been infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome and that a sixth person had died.

A total of 87 people have been confirmed as having MERS since a South Korean man infected with the virus returned from the Middle East in May. The outbreak is the largest ever outside the Middle East, where most infections have occurred since the virus was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 2012…hence Middle East respiratory syndrome.

The latest fatality was an 80-year-old man, officials in the city of Daejeon said on Monday.

MERS is a respiratory disease from the same family of viruses as the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. There is no vaccine or medical treatment for the virus, which has a death rate of around 27%, according to the World Health Organization.

The government, criticised for not providing enough information on the outbreak, yesterday named 24 health facilities involved with the virus outbreak.

Officials are keeping a close eye on around 2,500 people who have been placed under quarantine. It is thought that fewer than 10 have broken quarantine rules.

Almost 1,900 schools have been closed, according to Reuters. Singapore has cancelled or postponed school trips to South Korea. Hong Kong has now told its citizens that they should only visit South Korea if necessary.

According to the World Health Organisation, there is no vaccine currently available for MERS, and the coronavirus does not pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact.

This has not stopped large numbers of people from wearing face-masks and from changing their daily routines. It has reduced attendance at public events such as the baseball and in shopping areas and markets.

Since the spread of the virus began last month, the South Korean government has faced public criticism for insufficient disclosure of information on hospitals where people with MERS have been treated and the sluggish rollout of precautionary measures.

Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said the government was taking all necessary measures to contain the spread of the virus. There is much public and media scepticism about government statements and there are signs of some public panic, fuelled by dramatic media reports.

The government said it would also track some of those under quarantine by the location of their cellphones. Soon after the outbreak began one person broke a voluntary quarantine and traveled to southern China, where he has been hospitalized with symptoms of MERS.

The government is also operating a hotline for citizens to report evidence of MERS spreading. It also sent out nationwide text alerts Saturday asking citizens to wash their hands frequently and to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Stores across South Korea have reported heavy sales of face masks and hand sanitizer since the outbreak began. Face masks are being sold on the city’s subway trains where people stare accusingly at the people who are not wearing masks.

The outbreak in South Korea has caused concern in Asian-Pacific countries, which have stepped up precautions against the spread of MERS, including tightening checks on visitors arriving at airports with flulike symptoms.

Tourism authorities say that thousands of travelers have canceled plans to visit South Korea since the outbreak of MERS. For those who do travel in and out of Korea expect more border health checks as this outbreak looks like it will be around for some time.

A group of experts from the WHO are scheduled to arrive in Seoul in the coming days to help tackle the outbreak.

Charles Kennedy – a lovely man, a talented politician, a great friend with a shared enemy

2 June 2015 A generous and heart-felt tribute from Alastair Campbell

Charles Kennedy was a lovely man, and a highly talented politician. These are the kind of words that always flow when public figures die, often because people feel they have to say those things, and rightly they are flowing thick and fast today as we mourn an important public figure, and a little bit of hypocrisy from political foes is allowed. But when I say that Charles was a lovely man and a talented politician, I mean it with all my heart.

Having heard the news from a friend of Charles who knew he and I spoke and saw each other regularly, and who had found the body yesterday, I finally got to bed at three o’clock this morning, and was awake before 6, feeling shell-shocked and saddened to the core.

Fair to say that most of my friends in politics are on the Labour side but Charles tops the non-Labour ones. I knew him first as a journalist covering his rapid rise, he becoming Parliament’s youngest MP – and one of the most interesting – aged 23, just as I was starting out as a Mirror journalist. He was one of the few politicians with whom I discussed whether they thought I should accept Tony Blair’s approach to work for him, and ‘on balance, all things considered’ (two of his favourite phrases) he felt I should. Then of course later he became Lib Dem leader, and he would ask me in TB’s heyday, half jest, half despair, ‘how on earth do I land a glove on this man?’; but we became especially friendly in more recent years once we were out of the frontline, meeting often, always away from the Commons, to cast interested and sometimes despairing eyes over our respective parties.

But our shared friendship was also built on a shared enemy, and that is alcohol. That Charles struggled with alcohol is no secret to people in Westminster, or in the Highlands constituency he served so well, for so long, until the SNP tide swept away all but one Scottish Lib Dem at the election last month. Perhaps another day, if his family are happy with this, I will write in more detail about the discussions we had over the past few years, and what it was like for someone in the public eye facing the demon drink. It was a part of who he was, and the life he had; the struggles came and went, and went and came, but the great qualities that made Charles who and what he was were always there.

For some years, my family has spent either Easter, or Christmas and New Year, sometimes both, in Charles’ former constituency and he, his wife Sarah before they split up, and their lovely son Donald would always come over, sometimes to stay. I always think one’s own children’s judgement of friends is a good indicator, and my kids, used to politicians in their lives and often seeing straight through them, saw right into Charles for what he was – clever, funny, giving, flawed. My Mum could listen to him all day. ‘I think you’re marvellous on Question Time,’ she would purr about some programme she had remembered from months earlier. She always took his side when I was trying to persuade him he would be a ‘natural on twitter,’ and he felt it was all a bit silly and new fangled. I helped him set up his twitter account. Fair to say he never quite moved that far from his initial assessment.

Mother and children enjoyed his robustness in braving whatever storms were lashing outside ‘to nip out for a wee bit of fresh air,’ otherwise known as a cigarette. Coming as they do from a maniacally exercising family, they appreciated his studied indifference to all forms of heavy exercise. ‘I’ve never actually been to the top of Ben Nevis,’ he said proudly and to great hilarity of the mountain on our doorstep, which had been on his doorstep all his life. They liked the way he advised on where the next long walk should be, ‘but I’ll probably stay and read a book.’

I think they also appreciated that Charles, such a passionate and eloquent opponent of the war in Iraq, was nonetheless unwilling to join those who when it came to their view of Tony Blair or of me, could never see beyond that issue. Charles knew that it was possible to disagree with people without constantly feeling the need to condemn them as lacking in integrity or values; though he was not averse to making a few cracks about historic events down the road in Glencoe.

Even though we knew it was a lost cause, and that Charles would be a Liberal all his life, Philip Gould and I did have an annual dinner time bash at trying to persuade him that deep down he was Labour, and now you have a son at school in London, how about we get you a nice safe Labour seat? Banter political holidays style. It was never going to happen. He was Lochaber to his bones, and a Liberal to his bones.

We were all a bit worried about him after the election. Indeed, ‘is Charles going to be ok?’ was one of the questions Fiona asked me most often during the campaign, and, on the night the exit poll made it clear his safe seat was gone, ‘is Charles ok?’ became an inquiry of a very different nature. Representing the people of Ross, Skye and Lochaber meant so much to him. Last Christmas was the first time he said to me that he felt it was possible he might lose. But we took comfort from the fact that a year earlier, at the same time, we were worrying that the referendum on independence might be lost. We worked on some ideas together and it was partly at his urging that I spent the last few weeks of the campaign in Scotland when – to his astonishment but to his apparent delight – I got on rather well with Danny Alexander, his neighbouring MP.

To be honest, for all the talk of the SNP tide, I did not believe he would lose his seat. He fought very much as Charles, not the Lib Dems and was hilarious about the efforts he intended to go to in resisting any high profile visits. As I know from the time we spend up there, he was hugely popular, but the combination of the toxicity of the Lib Dem brand and the SNP phenomenon proved too powerful a combination.

Going by the chats and text exchanges before and after his election defeat, he seemed to be taking it all philosophically. Before, he took to sending me the William Hill odds on his survival, and a day before the election I got a text saying ‘Not good. Wm Hill has me 3-1 against, SNP odds on, they’re looking unstoppable.’ Then he added: ‘There is always hope … health remains fine.’ Health remains fine – this was a little private code we had, which meant we were not drinking.

A week later, health still fine, we chatted about the elections, and he did sound pretty accepting of what had happened. Here and now is probably not the place to record all his observations about all the various main players of the various main parties north and south, but he said in some ways he was glad to be out of it. I am not totally sure I believed him, but he had plenty of ideas of how he would spend his time, how we would make a living, and most important how he would continue to contribute to political ideas and political life.

Later he texted me ‘fancy starting a new Scottish left-leaning party? I joke not.’ I suggested – though I confess I was joking – that we hold a ‘coalition summit’ at the place we go on holiday. ‘I am up for that – but who do we invite?’

This was to be the agenda for a catch up later this week when he was hoping to get to my brother’s farewell do from Glasgow University, where Charles had been the University Rector for six years, and my brother Donald has been the official University Piper for a lot longer. Charles tried to get me to run for the Rectorship after him – in addition to my brother’s role, my Dad was a Glasgow University vet school graduate – before I gently suggested that with the students voting, this was perhaps one place where his stance on Iraq may have been more helpful to such a campaign than mine.

His kindness to my brother, who has had health struggles of his own, and who Charles met many times at official functions and the like, was another big positive about him in the Campbell household. And I hope his son Donald won’t mind me revealing to the world that as a small boy he loved the bagpipes, and Charles and Sarah had to endure long car journeys with young Donald insisting on playing again and again a CD of my brother Donald’s best solo piping, and I had to play the same tunes on my own pipes once he arrived.

I think of all the memories, that is how and where I will remember Charles, with Sarah and Donald up in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, enjoying each other’s company, enjoying ours as we enjoyed theirs, and being able to talk one minute the future of Europe or the Union, the next where to find the best fish or live local music.

He was great company, sober or drinking. He had a fine political mind and a real commitment to public service. He was not bitter about his ousting as leader and nor, though he disagreed often with what his Party did in coalition with the Tories, did he ever wander down the rentaquote oppositionitis route. He was a man of real talent and real principle.

Despite the occasional blip when the drink interfered, he was a terrific communicator and a fine orator. He spoke fluent human, because he had humanity in every vein and every cell. Above all, he was a doting Dad of his son, whose loss is going to be greater than for any of us, and who will be reminded of his father every time he looks in the mirror and sees his red hair and cheeky smile coming back. And he was a very good friend. I just wish that we, his friends, had been able to help him more, and that he was still with us today, adding a bit of light to an increasingly gloomy political landscape.

Thailand’s King returns to hospital

2 June 2015

Thailand’s ailing king Bhumibol Adulyadej was quietly transferred by helicopter on Sunday, May 31, from his summer palace in Hua Hin, 200 km south of Bangkok, to Siriraj Hospital where he has spent much of the last decade.

Local media said that the King and Queen returned by car for normal health checks. But they had only briefly returned to Hua Hin and the helicopter return, written about by two separate sources, indicates a more serious problem.

There has been no public announcement of the ailing, 87-year-old king’s condition. He and his equally ailing Queen Sirikit left Siriraj, Thailand’s best hospital, in early May for the seaside palace. At the time their appearance raised serious concerns about their health. Both appeared nearly comatose.

When the king dies after ruling for 69 years since 1946 as Rama IX, the passing is expected to set off a wave of mourning that can be expected to last for months. His condition is of enormous emotional importance to Thailand’s 67-million people.

The king went into the hospital eight months ago to have his gall bladder removed. He had previously been confined to the hospital for four years before coming out for a brief period

Both he and the queen are believed to have had a series of strokes that have left them basically incapacitated.

Although the king has no formal political role, his replacement, assumed to be the 62-year-old crown prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, inspires little confidence; he does appear, however, to have reached an arrangement with the army that included the divorce of his third wife, the arrest of many of her family, and the formalising of his fourth marriage.

Announcing the Emirates FA Cup

31 May 2015

In a deal that makes perfect sense for both parties the Football Association yesterday confirmed a new three-year sponsorship deal for its flagship competition, which from August will be known as the Emirates FA Cup. At least that is what the two parties involved hope is going to happen. The FA chairman, Greg Dyke, who promised that most of the money raised in a deal thought to be worth £30m would be spent on improving grassroots facilities, expects some opposition and criticism from football traditionalists.

“Let me try and allay their fears by saying all the money will be going back into the game at all levels,” Dyke said. “The vast majority of the funds raised will be going to the parts of the game that need it most. Grassroots, youth coaching and especially the development of all-weather pitches in communities around the country. That is an area where we are miles behind the Dutch and the Germans.

“I think that people who object to the name change are the same people who are sentimental about kicking off at three o’clock. The world changes. The reason we kick off at 5.30pm today is because that is the time when most people are available to watch.

“When I took over this job I felt the FA Cup had been in decline for some years. Now it is enjoying something of a revival. I don’t think it is ever going to get back to what it was when I was a kid, when whole towns and communities used to come to a halt, but I do think it has been rebuilt in the past few years and the television audience the BBC can bring is part of that. The Cup still captures the imagination, it is still one of the world’s most iconic pieces of silverware.”

Emirates Airline was associated with Fifa until last year, and Sir Tim Clark, the company president, was careful to draw a distinction between supporting the FA and the discredited organisation still led by Sepp Blatter. “The least said about last week’s events the better,” Clark said.“The FA is not that organisation, and the FA Cup has an unrivalled heritage and draws a global audience of more than 1.1 billion.

“I think we are regarded as a healthy, wholesome brand and we are proud to be first title sponsors of such a great competition. We have enjoyed a very successful partnership with Arsenal and I hope this will be the same. I hope our partnership lasts for longer than three years.”

The FA had been looking for a new sponsor for the FA Cup since Budweiser ended its three-year association with the 144-year-old tournament last year.

Emirates sponsors Arsenal and, as well as the club’s Emirates Stadium, an annual pre-season tournament bears the company’s name. It also sponsors Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Milan and Hamburg.

Etihad reveals profits but no published accounts

28 May 2015

Etihad Airways announced its strongest financial results to date, posting a net profit of US$ 73 million on total revenues of US$ 7.6 billion for the year to 31 March 2015, up 52.1 percent and 26.7 percent respectively over the previous year.

The airline says that this marked the airline’s fourth consecutive year of net profitability, also saw earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) up 32.5 per cent to US$ 257 million. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation and rentals (EBITDAR) were up 16.2 per cent to US$ 1.1 billion, representing a 15 per cent margin on total revenues. Rather a misleading number in a capital intensive business.

James Hogan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Etihad Airways, said: “Our shareholder has set a clear commercial mandate for this business and we continue to deliver against that mandate. Our focus is on sustainable profitability and our fourth year of net profits, at a time when we continue to invest in the new routes, new aircraft, new product and new infrastructure needed to compete effectively, shows we are serious about that goal.

“Our performance in 2014 has cemented Etihad Airways’ position as a best-in-class, profitable and self-sustaining international airline. We have continued to grow, not just in size, reputation and performance, but also in maturity, evolving from an airline to a diverse global aviation and tourism group. This has been achieved through a unique strategy that combines industry-leading organic growth with wide-ranging partnerships and minority equity investments in other airlines around the world.”

Etihad Airways carried a total of 14.8 million passengers in 2014, an increase of 22.3 per cent year-on-year. Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPKs) – measuring passenger journeys – increased by 23.6 per cent to 68.6 billion (55.5 billion), while Available Seat Kilometres (ASKs) – representing capacity – grew by 21.8 per cent to 86.6 billion (71.1 billion). The growth in passenger demand and revenue over the 12-month period continued to outstrip Etihad Airways’ capacity increase, highlighting the strength of its long-term growth strategy.

By the end of the year, the average network-wide seat load factor was 79.2 per cent, compared to 78.0 per cent in 2013.

Etihad does not publish its financial statements.

A key driver of Etihad Airways’ growth in 2014 was its partnership strategy, based on wide-ranging codeshares and its unique approach of minority equity investments in strategically important, and in most cases worryingly unprofitable, airlines. This has accelerated network growth, giving Etihad Airways the largest route network of any Middle Eastern carrier, reaching more than 500 destinations. It has boosted sales and marketing opportunities in key markets, as well as allowing significant business synergies and cost savings.

This strategy delivered revenues of US$ 1.1 billion in 2014, an increase of 37.7 per cent (US$ 820 million), and represented 24 per cent of Etihad Airways’ total passenger revenues.

Thai Govt Unveils 12-Nation ‘Friends of Thailand’ Bloc

27 May 2015

This is not an April Fool. But it could be. Thailand has unveiled its new Friends of Thailand group. And the list of twelve friends is bizarre.

News reports said that diplomats from twelve countries were visiting Bangkok today as a part of the Foreign Ministry’s effort to form a new diplomatic bloc that promotes Thailand’s standing in the international community, a government spokesperson said.

“They visited Thailand through our program of creating a network of alliances for Thailand – called Friends of Thailand – which has been formed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Maj.Gen. Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak.

The diplomats, who are ambassadors to the United Nations, hail from Antigua and Barbuda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Dominican Republic, Gabon, Ghana, Kiribati, Hungary, Nauru, Vanuatu, and Cameroon. I guess they will do and say anything for a sponsored ride to Thailand.

One European country – Hungary – where HRW says “A discriminatory constitution and a raft of laws adopted by the ruling Fidesz party undermine the judiciary, media, and other checks and balances on the government.” Not one Arab nation.

According to Maj.Gen. Weerachon, junta chairman and Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha met with the UN ambassadors today and told them that Thailand is undergoing a period of national reforms, and will hold an election by September 2016. He has given dates before that have proven invalid. This may happen again.

Prayuth’s military government and steady suppression of civil rights has come under criticism from democratic nations, including the United States and the European Union, who have said that full-scale diplomatic relations will be not be restored until Thailand returns to democratic rule.

Speaking at a press conference today, Maj.Gen. Weerachon told reporters that representatives from all twelve nations expressed support for Thailand’s military government. Of course they did. Just like the Australian ambassador who had to deny quotes attributed to him earlier in the year.

“The diplomats spoke with one voice, that Thailand is a good place to live, and it is full of friendship,” Maj.Gen. Weerachon said. “They also gave moral support to the administration, which has clearly proven to them that it is working to benefit the Thai people and spread happiness. The diplomats unanimously agreed that in order to move the country forward, stability and national security have to come first, then other things will follow.”

The “Friends of Thailand” ambassadors did not ask any questions related to “allegations about human rights violations” in Thailand, the spokesperson added.

On the one-year anniversary of the coup last week, Human Rights Watch published a report describing how the junta has “systematically” suppressed human rights in Thailand. The report noted the junta’s ban on political activities and protests, regular intimidation of the media, and use of arbitrary detention and martial courts.

A Sydney affair

19 May 2015

It is almost exactly 31 years since I first traveled to Sydney; and it is a city that has lived with me since that first memorable trip.

I was a newly qualified chartered accountant. And bless them, my old firm decided that for the first time they would send three qualified staff from London to the Sydney office to help with the winter workload.

Peter Taylor, Simon Scott and I all raised out hands.

The firm would give us the equivalent of a standard apex economy return and would find us accommodation. We would still be paid, and taxed in the UK. This proved to be less than ideal at a time when the Aussie dollar was strong and the pound did not go far down under.

Sydney was the seventh stop on a Garuda flight that went from Gatwick to Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Jakarta, Denpasar and Melbourne before wearily arriving in Syney.

Our apartment was a three bedroom flat at 44 Lamrock Avenue about a minute’s walk from Bondi Beach. It is still there.

I was s stunning blue sky early winter day in the low 20Cs.

Noel Robson and his wife Jane came around to visit. It was probably a Saturday. Noel had spent a year with the London office of our firm when I first joined and and among other achievements had become a Watford FC fan.

Noel drove us to the Watsons Bay hotel and we sat in outside on their lawn, eating ludicrously large t-bone steaks, taking in one of the very best views in the world and drinking a efw beers. There can be no better introduction to the city.

Work started on Monday and for three months I was sent to work at Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation. It was perfect for me. A news junkie; ex editor of the university newspaper and now working in what was about to become a media giant. At that time News Corp was primarily Australian with morning and evening print media and Channel 10 tv. The war chest had been filled through Reuters 2004 flotation but the assault on the UK media was still in the planning stage.

BodyLine was showing for the first time on Australian tv – with Hugo Weaving as the dastardly Douglas Jardine plotting the bodyline attack on Australia’s favorite son, Donald Bradman.

Walking past the sports desk the morning after each show I met a barrage of complaints about what the pommie bastards had done to their great cricket team a mere 52 years previously – or last night if the sports desk was to be believed.

We played some golf; we spent lots of nights in the Eastern suburbs RSL. We went to Rugby League tests to watch the British get trampled on; we watched the State of the Union to see how the game should be played.

I went to a greek wedding; thanks to a very good friend that I met through work….

And i nearly stayed. I had a job offer to move full time to Sydney – and how life could have been different if I had said yes.

Instead I took a leisurely and sunburned trip home though Bali, Singapore, Penang and my first visit to Bangkok (without a clue how big a role that city would play in my life).

I got back to London – saw that Reuters were recruiting internal auditors for a job with significant travel – and that was to be my future for the next 16 years.

I was back in Sydney in 1988 trying to make sense of the work that a Canadian subsidiary of Reuters was doing in the Australian financial market and merging the two offices together.

In 2004 I moved to Hong Kong with a responsibility that covered all of the Asia Pacific region. There were meetings in Sydney – the old Regent (now The Four Seaons) was the company hotel. There was a splendid sales conference in Coolum memorable for the Korean connection. There were work visits. There were holidays. A memorable trip up to Port Douglas. A Christmas in a Sydney heatwave on the way to New Zealand for the new year.

The city has evolved but never radically changed. The harbour is still green and criss-crossed by busy ferries. The coastline is more gentrified. The Bondi Tram has gone. But you can now walk along the cliffs from Bondi to Coogee and Clovelly, one of the great walks. The Japanese visitors have been replaced by larger numbers of Chinese tourists. but for Sydney-siders life seems to simply go on in a fairly laid-back manner.

I love the history; I love the idea of the fatal shore. I remain stunned that 700 ill-equipped convicts and 400 soldiers on a fleet of eleven small ships could sail half way around the world arriving in Port Jackson on January 1788, and lay the foundations for one of the world’s great cities.

I love how the country has evolved from British empire to multi-culturalism. Loyalty to empire is long past; but Australia embraces evolution not revolution. One day the British union flag will not appear on the Australian flag but the history and values will remain.

And now I have been able to explore the city with Tai – they are short visits – but we see the city through different eyes. I now know my way around Thai -town.

31 years. I still love the city – and that is a love affair longer than many relationships!

Yingluck’s trial

19 May 2015 vias The Financial Times

Thailand’s ousted prime minister faces a criminal trial and up to ten years in jail as the ruling generals and their establishment allies seek to tighten their hold on the country a year after seizing power.

Yingluck Shinawatra was due in court today on negligence charges that are widely seen as an effort to drive her electorally powerful family out of public life in the Southeast Asian kingdom.

The case falls on the eve of the first anniversary of the 22 May 2014 military coup that deepened a long-running political battle gripping — and crippling — the region’s second-largest economy.

Ms Yingluck is charged with negligence over her stewardship of a multibillion-dollar rice subsidy scheme that anti-corruption authorities allege was plagued with graft. She has denied wrongdoing and accused her pursuers of conducting a politically driven witch-hunt.

Analysts say the action against Ms Yingluck is a means of attacking her family, particularly her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the self-exiled plutocrat turned prime minister. Mr Thaksin’s parties have won every election since 2001 thanks to popular policies such as the rice scheme and subsidised healthcare, shattering the traditional aristocratic elite’s dominance of politics.

Some analysts believe the courts will not impose a long jail term because this would risk turning Ms Yingluck into a martyr. The trial may also be drawn out, so she remains useful as a bargaining chip.

“The eventual outcome depends partly on timing, partly on reactions of different power groups, and how the current regime evaluates the impact of a guilty verdict on stability,” said Ambika Ahuja, Southeast Asia analyst at Eurasia Group, the political risk consultancy. “Putting her behind bars would be a very provocative and destabilising move, and this remains an unlikely scenario for now.”

Mr Thaksin and his parties have long been accused of corruption and cronyism, by independent observers as well as political enemies. But while there are reasons to suspect graft in the rice scheme, critics say no authority has yet provided solid evidence of its nature or scale, or had those claims tested in a credible court.

Rights groups have also raised concerns that Ms Yingluck is threatened with a long jail term despite not herself being accused of corruption, but rather of failing to prevent it.

Ms Yingluck has already been banned from politics for five years by the military’s puppet parliament, after a hearing that was widely criticised for its procedural failings and lack of evidence.

Thai courts and regulatory institutions have deposed three Thaksin-allied prime ministers in the past 10 years, including Ms Yingluck. This has drawn accusations that they are acting as agents of the traditional ruling elite, a charge they deny.

The military insists it took control of the country reluctantly to restore stability after six months of debilitating protests against Ms Yingluck’s government, during which demonstrators besieged official buildings and sabotaged a general election. The generals have deferred polls initially slated for this year and have overseen the drafting of a new constitution, which would curb the power of elected politicians and give greater authority to appointees and the military.

MAS set for a Muellering

16 May 2015

The full scale of staff cuts at Malaysia Airlines (MAS) should emerge on June 1, when a huge number of employees are due to receive their marching orders. New CEO Christoph Mueller – the man credited with turning Aer Lingus around – has emailed the airline’s 20,000 staff to tell them that he will focus on slashing costs rather than increasing revenues.

“The reason for our precarious situation is mainly our uncompetitive cost levels,” Mueller wrote. “We share this problem with almost all legacy carriers around the world, and new low-cost carriers are attacking us.”

Of the staff that are retained many will have to accept renegotiated pay and conditions on a par with MAS’ competitors, though it is unclear whether that means budget airlines such as AirAsia or other flag carriers in the region. Even if the final settlement is closer to the former, MAS’ powerful unions will have little room for manoeuvre given the moribund state of the airline. An axe is also being taken to MAS’ widebody fleet.

Four of the carrier’s 777s, all six A380s and four A330 freighters thought to be up for sale or lease.

At the other end of the scale the airline is looking to offload its regional arm, MASwings, to the Malaysian Borneo administrations of Sabah and Sarawak. MASwings mainly operates ATR turboprops.

Ditching the airline’s MH code also seems likely, given its associations with the two worst air disasters of recent memory.

The biggest question mark hangs over the future of MAS’ European services, and whether they are merely to be scaled back or fully eliminated. Kuala Lumpur-Frankfurt is already for the chop and KL-Amsterdam could follow. Paris and London, meanwhile, are both currently served by the A380s now in MAS’ shop window.

Abandoning Europe would be a huge step, and could boost MAS’ tormentor-in-chief, Tony Fernandes, whose AirAsiaX is considering a second go at low-cost Asia-Europe flights.

Thoughts on EK from PPRUNE

14 May 2014

A well thought through note from the Emirates forum on PPRUNE discussing the good and not so good of working at Emirates. But the message is wider. The issues raised apply to any responsible role in almost any company in this region.

“We all seek three basic features from a job: Money or value in benefits, Job satisfaction and Time off or, more pertinently, time unencumbered by the employment. This is not necessarily in order of priority and the value of each aspect is a personal choice.

Of course there are other aspects and features but I would argue that these are the three main pillars. For example, the feeling of being valued and respected by the company would be a subset of job satisfaction.

These three aspects, Money, Satisfaction and Time are almost always counterweighted. If you want more time off be prepared to sacrifice money. Some of the higher paying jobs require eating plenty of humble pie and keeping your mouth shut as fools around you make decisions. Hardly satisfying, depending on your tolerance of bullies.

Most of us try to strike a ratio that is constantly changing as we progress through life.

As pilots early on we often chase the machine. The prospect of a heavy jet, the kudos and the ego send us up the slippery pole, prostituting ourselves as we climb.

Enter the wife and kids and suddenly a C172 looks good if the salary is enormous. Unlikely I know but anything will do if it pays the bills!

Later, when we have flown it and been there and done it several times, our mortality dawns upon us so the appeal of unstressed time off with the children and grandchildren moves to center stage provided there have been no major financial disasters along the way.

In aviation all three pillars have been eroded; less money, less time and increasing stress.

I see many posts asking for information of salary, benefits and flying hours at my company and it amazes me how naive the questions are.

Salary – That’s simple. As an absolute monthly value it has been decreasing in real terms for the past 20 years. This is indisputable and provable to anyone with a modicum of financial savvy. As a function of remuneration per hour the picture gets rapidly worse. Equally provable. This is in line with the industry as a whole.

Job Satisfaction – More complicated. The equipment is superb as is the route structure. Work colleagues are a great bunch on the whole. Company ethos however has been devastated by a punitive culture often devoid of empathy and frequently disrespectful. See threads on punitive action and unexplained major changes – An unexplained order to fly flat out being the latest testament. Additionally there is no cognizance of previous record, you are as good as your last flight and therein the Sword of Damocles hangs. It hardly makes you feel valued or part of some “team”. Attempts to hear concerns through “wash ups” are a placebo to an ever increasing resentment – most issues never followed to a conclusion or even presented to someone who can act or respond coherently.

This brings me to the final pillar…

Time – Arguably this is where the most damage has occurred. To look at flying hours expected per month for an indication would be insanity for any prospective joiner. If they asked that at an interview I would immediately mark them as either having a low problem solving aptitude or a lamb to the slaughter. It is way more complex than that.

The question must be: How much time does one spend in the service of the company? Here is where it gets murky.

For a start any official indication would be false. For example you won’t start work an hour before the flight as per FTLs nor will your work be over half an hour after. There is much about unaccounted duty on this forum.

Then there is the question of how much actual time will be spent in attaining the magic monthly productivity threshold target of enthusiastic rostering clerks. This can vary by over 50% depending on fleet and roster. Understand that if you spend more time at work in pursuit of your hour target you will get less time off to recover. Insanity at its finest. Ask the walking zombies on the No ULR/Turnaround fleet over the last years.

Next factor in time not accounted for in the productivity target but nevertheless rostered. Simulator sessions, groundschools, SEP. Serious work but the target hours will not be affected, look forward to real roster compression.

Next factor in the time spent with other company related business. Online learning, endless deluges of notices many accompanied with dire warnings on failure to comply report and email writing to explain various online occurrences.

Leave and Days off is a subject all on its own. Again there is much on this forum. Leave is often used in for and in lieu of days off. A financial coup for the company when they attain over 90 hours with 5 days leave in the month.

Now drill down some more: Accommodation and Payroll issues, medical claims and appointments, claims for various other legitimate expenditure, Roster and Leave queries, HR compliance – the list is endless. Many of these involve multiple unanswered emails and phone calls due to the inability or reluctance to act or simply inadequate or incompetent staffing. Claims are legendary. The system seems to be designed for every possible obstacle and delay.

I have not even begun on the time spent simply living in the city. This comes with a host of requirements to simply exist. Photos and original copies are required for almost everything, the distances are vast, the traffic frenetic, parking sparse and you are likely to be met by a blank face advising you they require yet another form not mentioned on website or phone. Banks are at liberty to do exactly what they like with little avenue for recourse. The best of a bad bunch is another topic on this forum. Be prepared to spend a great deal of time in monitoring the villains who will attempt to extract another penny for every service you may need. Perhaps other posters can flesh out this area – The multiple frustrations of living in the Middle East.

I could go on but hopefully the essence is clear.

If you have eyes in this direction please do your homework and look at how the three fundamentals are important to you both now and in the future. However pay special attention to Time- You can’t buy it and lack of it makes you sick and old. There won’t be nearly as much as there seems on paper. It is extracted at every turn.

With low hour FO’s on the cards due to the recently reduced experience bar and DECs in the offing, allegedly being lured by joining the salary scale several steps above other captains, the package may look attractive but I suggest they consider what is important in life and do a pragmatic review.

Don’t return home with a bank balance but a bankrupt and broken life.”

Maurice Flanagan – EK pioneer

9 May 2015 By Rory Jones for the Wall Street Journal

Maurice Flanagan, who helped build Emirates Airline from a desert start-up to the world’s biggest international carrier, died Thursday. He was 86.

Mr. Flanagan navigated the carrier for more than a quarter century—through regional wars and global recessions—to turn Emirates into a premier airline and its home of Dubai into a global commercial hub.

Arriving in the city state in 1978 to run Dubai’s airport operator Dnata, Mr. Flanagan began operating an airline at the request of current ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He had $10 million in government funding in his pocket and two leased aircraft from Pakistan International Airlines.

On setting up Emirates in 1985, Sheikh Mohammed said the airline had to “be good, look good, and make money.” In his time at Emirates’ helm, Mr. Flanagan accomplished all three.

Retiring as Executive Vice Chairman in 2013, Mr. Flanagan left an airline flying 39 million annual passengers to more than 130 destinations and with revenues of $15 billion. He had held the roles of Managing Director, President and Vice Chairman during his time at Emirates

Born in Lancashire, United Kingdom in 1928, Mr. Flanagan earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and French from the University of Liverpool before serving in the Royal Air Force as a navigation officer. His career in aviation started in 1953 as a graduate trainee with British Overseas Airways Corporation, the forerunner to British Airways.

Mr. Flanagan was posted multiple times overseas before joining British Airways senior management in 1974.

Sharing an office in the early years with Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the current chairman of Emirates, Mr. Flanagan developed a bond with the Emirati royal, according to people close to the executives. “He was generous with his time, forthright in his views, and a person who gave 110% to everything he did,” Sheikh Ahmed said in a statement on Thursday.

Still, the first few years of the airline were tumultuous, with the Iran-Iraq war on Dubai’s doorstep and the launch of the first Gulf War in 1991. That same year Emirates launched its first flight to London Heathrow airport, now one of its major destinations. Routes to Asia, Australasia and the U.S. soon followed.

The UK media and the election

10 May 2015

In the 1992 general election it was the Sun “wot won it” for John Major’s Conservatives. Or so the Murdoch rag proclaimed. 1992 was a huge surprise – and there has been nothing like it until this week.

Despite the influence of social media the newspapers are still influential: whether by urging readers to vote tactically to “stop Red Ed” or by backing the Tories, the campaigning coverage of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun and the Times, Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail and the Barclay brothers’ Telegraph titles has been a marked feature of this campaign.

Even the Independent belied its name and took the Tory line.

One study found that the Sun, Murdoch’s biggest-selling title, was more virulently anti-Labour in this campaign than it was in the runup to the 1992 election when Neil Kinnock was depicted in a lightbulb on polling day.

Few would argue that newspaper support sways voters’ intentions anywhere near as much as, say, fears over Labour’s handling of the economy or the leadership talents of Ed Miliband. Yet the fact that the bulk of UK newspapers backed the eventual winner is noteworthy, and almost as much of a surprise as the Conservative majority no one managed to predict.

What makes it more significant is that it comes in an era of declining newspaper sales and worries about their relevance in the digital age.

It is likely that whoever replaces Miliband as Labour leader will be even more wary of threatening Murdoch or any other press baron with increased regulation and the breakup of their empires.

The Tory victory leaves intact Murdoch’s reputation for always backing poll winners (he did briefly back Tony Blair), and hence the desire of party leaders to court him. Since 1979 the Sun has urged its readers to support every eventual election winner.

Tony Blair flew halfway across the world to address an annual meeting of News Corp soon after being made party leader. Miliband used his own refusal to do so as a way of divorcing himself from the mistakes of the Blairite past in 2010. The Labour party manifesto was the only one to vow to protect media plurality and implement the Leveson inquiry’s recommendations for independent press regulation.

There is some debate over how influential the press is; maybe the media is simply pandering to their own readers’ views. But Murdoch and his like are back – and as vocal as ever.

With a party now in power whose only manifesto pledge on the media was to freeze the BBC’s licence fee, Murdoch and his UK executives can rest easy that they can do business again. Calls for a Leveson-approved press regulator are likely to diminish. And Vince Cable, the cabinet minister most critical of Murdoch’s previous plans to buy Sky outright, has lost his Commons seat.

When Murdoch appeared before the Leveson inquiry he argued that the Sun’s “won it” headline had been “tasteless and wrong”, adding: “We don’t have that sort of power.” The election of 2015 might just prove him wrong.

UK election thoughts

8 May 2015

7 May 2015 was election day in the UK. And what a day it was. The polls all foretold a coalition; that no one party would win enough votes to form a government.

The pollsters had no idea.

The Tories are back. Not with a coalition. But with a majority of their own for the next five years.

The 2015 general election has dramatically redrawn the political map of Britain.

There are two big winners’ The Scottish Nationalists took 56 of 59 seats in Scotland. The Tories won Englamd. UKIP has just one seat. The LibDems have just eight seats. They were obliterated.

The losers; The LibDems – down to eight MPs and losing some 300+ deposits; The Labour Party. Almost 100 seats adrift of the Tories. Three leaders – all resigned – Clegg; Miliband; Farage.

Some commentators are comparing the Tories’ surprise win to 1992 when John Major confounded the pundits and won the last Conservative majority. It was a huge surprise. Major out-campaigned Neil Kinnock and won an election where the voters were clearly happier with the devil that they knew.

Same again in 2015. But like 1992 Cameron will be operating with a with a wafer-thin majority.

After his 1992 victory, Major found himself tormented by his Tory eurosceptic right and thus relied on the Ulster Unionist party’s then nine seats to prop up his majority in the Commons.

There will come a time sooner rather than later in this parliament when Cameron may have to go to the eight Democratic Unionist MPs and the two new Ulster Unionist MPs for support to keep his government in power. By-elections can damage your government.

It was a election where the media took the Tory line – and told readership that a Labour government would be beholden to the SNP. Cameron said of Mliband “he is weak and despicable and wants to crawl to power in Alex Salmond’s pocket.” The media jumped to support this theme.

The English were not going to be dictated to by the Scots.

Plenty of Westminster casualties in this 2015 election: Vince Cable, David Laws, the two Alexanders – Douglas and Danny. I was sad to see Simon Hughes lose his seat. Decent man. But the scalp of the man who was Gordon Brown’s closest adviser and who would have been chancellor in an Ed Miliband government was the biggest of the lot, Ed Balls. And he is a genuine loss to Parliament. If he decides to retire from frontline politics, he will be missed.

In one of the nights better concession speeches Balls suggested five years of Tory government would put the union, the NHS and Britain’s membership of the EU at risk.

He said that:

“Any personal disappointment I have at this result is as nothing compared to the sense of sorrow I have at the result that Labour has achieved across the United Kingdom tonight in Scotland, but also in England and Wales, and the sense of concern I have about the future.

We will now face five years where questions will arise about the future of our union, about whether or not we can stay as a member of the European Union, and fight for jobs and investment, whether we can make sure we secure our National Health Service at a time of public spending cuts. Those are real concerns to me and to many people across the United Kingdom.”

Ed Balls will be missed. He was one of the very best minds in Parliament.

UKIP ended the day with 12% of the vote but still only one MP – Douglas Carswell in Clacton. He was the Tory candidate in 2010. Nigel Farage’s lost his seat in South Thanet. UKIP was second in 118 seats. Just a distraction in reality.

The party is now likely to campaign hard for voting reform after picking up about 2.5m votes across the country. But this is old ground. The Liberals fought this ground from the 1970s onwards.

The reality is that the Conservative party had an economic record and leadership that enabled it to capture enough of the centre ground in England, at the expense of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, to claim a very surprising majority at Westminster. In England it was, once more, the economy. In Scotland, where the Labour and Lib Dem defeat was more clearly signalled, there was quite simply a revolt. The change in favour of nationalism is epochal.

It is vital to grasp that, even in Scotland, the 2015 result has been produced through the distortions of the first-past-the-post system. This is not the sour grapes of the disappointed. That system has produced distorted results in the past and this time it has produced an overall Commons majority for the Tories on no more than 37% of the votes cast. The SNP has swept 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland on half the votes cast there, leaving the half of Scots that backed unionist parties all but unrepresented. Ukip meanwhile has won around 4 million votes and secured only one MP. The Greens, more than doubling their votes nationwide, have only a single MP too. There is certainly no popular vote majority for a second Cameron government.

This as I said above is old news. Any change to the system is unlikely while it still favours the major parties.

So what next: Europe. Cameron has pledged a renegotiation of Britain’s place in the European Union and a referendum on the outcome before the end of 2017. The issue will dominate the government’s agenda at home and abroad for the coming two years. This is a process which Britain and Europe do not need.

To leave the EU would be a catastrophe for Britain economically, politically and socially – as well as hugely damaging to Europe too. But I fear the combination of UKIP voters; the Tory right – and the apathy of the rest could be enough for the Brits to leave the EU.

The German and Belgian leaders of the Greens in the European parliament, Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts, described the prospect of the UK quitting the EU as “hara-kiri”.

“The UK is sleepwalking its way out of the EU,” they said. “This would have dramatic and negative consequences for the UK and its component nations, as well as for the rest of Europe. We can only hope David Cameron finally wakes up to this risk.”

So what next: the future of the UK itself. Can Cameron keep the UK together? Is it even necessary? The SNP has sent a very loud message from north of hadrian’s wall. Cameron is already talking about one nation but it is not. It is a union of four countries with very different cultures, economies, languages and values!

The final challenge is to do far more to bring the country back together economically. Tory austerity is a significant threat to the union. And the LibDems did at least put some restraint on Tory extremism.

The election outcome has been a shocking defeat for Labour. Ed Miliband has now resigned as leader. The election almost wiped out the LibDems. Nick Clegg has resigned as leader.

For the Tories you have to go back to Salisbury in 1900 to find an instance of a Prime Minister increasing their share of the vote after being in power for more than 18 months. Overall Labour will be just a point up on the abysmal 30% of the GB vote that Gordon Brown achieved in 2010. Moreover Labour are down from 258 seats to 232 (-26).

Labour were trounced in Scotland and made few gains in England and Wales. On a smaller scale the Conservatives have benefited disproportionately, on seats if not on votes, from the collapse of the Liberal Democrats. The rise of UKIP that was expected to disproportionately hurt the Tories, but in fact seems to undermined the Labour performance more, especially in the North.

The SNP positioned themselves as a more authentic ‘progressive’ proposition than ‘red Tory’ Labour. When Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old student who unseated Douglas Alexander, made her victory speech, she denounced austerity, the bedroom tax and Trident. There are many on the Labour left who will hear that kind of language as proof that Miliband vacated orthodox socialist positions and paid a price for it in an epic Caledonian collapse.

Worth noting that on the BBC’s election programme, Andrew Marr is making the point that, just as the Labour tradition in Scotland seems to have been wiped out, the Liberal tradition in the south west of England seems to have been obliterated too.

And that is it – another five years of Cameron’s Tories – and as Patrick Stewart tweeted: @SirPatStew “One nation”? When were the Tory’s ever a one nation party? They are a party of self interest, as we shall see.

Make it so!

Emirates announces 2015 results

7 May 2015

The Emirates Group has announced its results for the year ended 31 Match 2015. Here are the highlights:

Group records 2nd highest profit ever with AED 5.5 billion (US$ 1.5 billion);

· Steady revenue and business growth in line with capacity increases, significant investment in the business at AED 20.2 billion (US$ 5.5 billion)

· Declares a dividend of AED 2.6 billion (US$ 700 million) to the Investment Corporation of Dubai.

Emirates makes profit of AED 4.6 billion (US$ 1.2 billion), as revenue increases 7% to AED 88.8 billion (US$ 24.2 billion)

· Capacity crosses 50 billion ATKM for the first time in airline’s history

· dnatamakes profit of AED 906 million (US$ 247 million), highest-ever in 56 years

· Revenue of AED 10.3 billion (US$ 2.8 billion) exceeds AED 10 billion for the first time

· International business now accounts for over 60% of revenue

The Emirates Group today announced its 27th consecutive year of profit and steady growth across the company. The Emirates Group posted an AED 5.5 billion (US$ 1.5 billion) profit, up 34% from last year. The Group’s revenue reached AED 96.5 billion (US$ 26.3 billion), an increase of 10% over last year’s results, and the Group’s cash balance remained strong, growing to AED 20.0 billion (US$ 5.5 billion).

“2014-15 was a turbulent year for aviation. The fall in oil prices provided cost relief in the second half of our financial year, however it did not offset the hit to our profitability caused by significant currency fluctuations, nor the hit to our revenue from operational adjustments in addressing the Ebola outbreak, armed conflicts in several regions, and the 80-day runway upgrading works at Dubai International airport (DXB). Achieving our 27th consecutive year of profit and one of our best performances to date, is testimony to the strength of our brands and business fundamentals, as well as the dedication and talent of our workforce,” said His Highness (H.H.) Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline and Group.

The strong rise of the US dollar against currencies in many of Emirates’ and dnata’s key markets had an AED 1.5 billion (US$ 412 million) impact to the Group’s bottom line, while the 80-day disruption at DXB had an estimated impact of AED 1.7 billion (US$ 467 million) on Group revenue….which is very odd as that was in the first half of the year – yet second half year revenues are flat.

The Group declared a dividend of AED 2.6 billion (US$ 700 million) to the Investment Corporation of Dubai.

In 2014-15, Emirates increased capacity by 4.0 billion Available Tonne Kilometres (ATKMs). For the first time in the airline’s history, Emirates’ total passenger and cargo capacity crossed the 50 billion mark, to 50.8 billion ATKMs at the end of the financial year, cementing its position as the world’s largest international airline.

Emirates received 24 new aircraft during the year, including 12 A380s, ten Boeing 777-300ERs and two Boeing 777Fs, bringing its total fleet count to 231. At the same time 10 aircraft were phased out.

With the delivery of new aircraft, Emirates launched five new passenger destinations: Abuja, Brussels, Budapest, Chicago, Oslo and four new additional freighter-only destinations: Atlanta, Basel, Mexico City, and Ouagadougou.

The 80-day runway closure at DXB necessitated the grounding of 19 Emirates aircraft, reducing the airline’s capacity by 9%, and causing the reduction of services to 41 destinations over this period. The estimated impact on airline revenue was AED 1.6 billion (US$ 436 million).

Despite these challenges, Emirates revenue reached a new record of AED 88.8 billion (US$ 24.2 billion). The average price of jet fuel dropped significantly during the second half of the financial year and has supported Emirates’ bottom line improvement. Emirates’ fuel bill decreased by 7% over last year to AED 28.7 billion (US$ 7.8 billion). Fuel is now 35% of operating costs, down by 4%pts compared to last year. However, fuel remained the biggest cost component for the airline. Total operating costs increased by 6%, compared to a revenue increase of 7% over the 2013-14 financial year.

The airline recorded a profit of AED 4.6 billion (US$ 1.2 billion), an increase of 40% over last year’s results, and a healthy profit margin of 5.1%, the strongest margin since 2010-11.

Carrying a record 49.3 million passengers, up 11% from last year, Emirates managed to achieve a Passenger Seat Factor of 79.6%, an improvement compared with last year’s results (79.4%).

Under pressure from the weakening of all major currencies against the USD, passenger yield dropped to 29.7 fils (8.1 US cents) per Revenue Passenger Kilometre (RPKM).

Looking forward to 2015-16, Emirates has to date announced two new routes including Denpasar and Orlando aside from a number of capacity upgrades to existing destinations.

The 2014-15 financial year has been a strong one for Emirates SkyCargo who reported a revenue of AED 12.3 billion (US$ 3.4 billion), a very remarkable 9% increase over last year.

At the end of the financial year, the Emirates SkyCargo freighter fleet had grown to 14 aircraft – 12 Boeing 777Fs, and 2 Boeing 747-400Fs.

Emirates’ hotels recorded revenue of AED 693 million (US$ 189 million), an impressive increase of 23% over last year. This positive development was supported by the opening of the second tower of the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in Dubai, the world’s tallest hotel.

In its 56 years of operation, 2014-15 has been dnata’s most profitable yet, building on its strong results in the previous year. dnata’s revenue grew to AED 10.3 billion (US$ 2.8 billion), crossing AED 10 billion for the first time. dnata’s international business now accounts for more than 60% of its revenue.

This substantial revenue increase of 36% was achieved through organic growth, and bolstered by the first full year of Gold Medal Travel Group operations which dnata Travel acquired in March 2014 of the previous financial year, the acquisition of Stella Travel in the UK in October 2014, and the remaining 50% share in Toll dnata in Australia in February 2015. Also the sale of mercator, dnata’s aviation IT business, was completed in the 2014-15 financial year.

The full 2014-15 Annual Report of the Emirates Group – comprising Emirates, dnata and their subsidiaries – is available at: www.theemiratesgroup.com/annualreport

Thai police arrest Rohingya man suspected of running deadly jungle camp

4 May 2015 Reuters

Thai police have arrested a man they believe is the key figure behind a brutal human trafficking network that ran a jungle camp where dozens of bodies have been found.

Soe Naing, widely known as Anwar, was detained on Wednesday as authorities closed in on a camp near the Thai-Malaysia border where as many as 400 trafficked migrants, mainly Rohingya and Bangladeshis, were imprisoned for ransom, Police Colonel Anuchon Chamat, deputy commander of police in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, told Reuters.

He was charged with fraud related to his failure to release a trafficked Rohingya after receiving a ransom payment.

His arrest, and the uncovering of the camp containing 26 bodies on Friday, is the first major bust of a trade in humans that activists and some Thai officials say has been allowed to flourish for years amid indifference and, sometimes, complicity by Thai authorities.

“This is huge. He’s a big guy, a top guy,” Anuchon said.

Anwar denies any involvement in trafficking and says he made a living tapping rubber and selling fried bread. People with grudges against him circulated his photo and accused him of trafficking, he told Reuters in Nakhon Si Thammarat police station on Wednesday.

“There are many Anwars. I’m also called Anwar. But you have to consider which Anwar is actually a human trafficker,” he said.

Four other people have been arrested for alleged involvement in the network since January, Anuchon said, adding that phone records indicated the operation likely stretched to Malaysia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Police are collecting evidence with a view to laying charges against Anwar, a Rohingya living in the southern Thai province of Songkhla, for murder, human trafficking and cross-border criminal activity, said Anuchon. Phone records, financial transactions and witness testimony point to Anwar allegedly playing a central role in the operation, Anuchon said. Police are also collecting DNA evidence from the grave site.

Case documents reviewed by Reuters, as well as interviews with police and witnesses, provide some insight into one of the alleged networks involved in the smuggling of the more than 100,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence and poverty in Myanmar since 2012 – often held at sea and in camps for months as they are shunted from Myanmar to Thailand, and then Malaysia.

Amy Smith, executive director for Southeast Asia at rights group Fortify Rights, said the camp uncovered on Friday was just one of the many that trafficking survivors say are strewn across southern Thailand.

“To our understanding, this is the first mass grave that’s been uncovered by Thai authorities. This demonstrates Thailand’s level of complacency in conducting proper investigations,” she said.

Reuters has previously documented the involvement of some members of Thai security forces in trafficking, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has acknowledged some official complicity.

Stung by being downgraded by the United States to the lowest category on its annual Trafficking in Persons report – citing a lack of enforcement and the involvement of some officials – Thailand’s military junta has ordered a crackdown on traffickers and introduced the death penalty in cases where their victims died.

At the camp uncovered on Friday, just a few hundred meters from the Malaysian border, rows of bamboo pens sit beneath a tree canopy; makeshift water pipes run nearby. Discarded shoes litter the ground, a sign of what police say was a hurried evacuation just days before police arrived.

During a visit by a Reuters reporter on Saturday, police and rescue teams could be seen pulling bodies in various stages of decay from the earth.

Two police witnesses who spoke to Reuters recounted allegations of beatings and murders in the camp.

One, a former inmate who helped lead police to the site, said those being held were regularly beaten while on the phone to relatives in order to extract money. Those who couldn’t pay, or who crossed the traffickers, were often killed.

The witness, who cannot be identified because he is in police protection, said he saw 17 people bludgeoned to death in the 10 months he was in the camp. “I saw four people beaten to death in the space of two hours,” the witness said.

Police said on Sunday that initial forensic examinations of the bodies found at the site showed no signs of violent death, such as bone marks or breakages.

One of those allegedly murdered was a 25-year-old identified only by his first name, Kasim, whose family had paid 95,000 baht ($2,870) for his release. Instead, hearing that Kasim’s uncle had passed information on his detention to authorities, Anwar ordered him killed, the witness said.

Kasim’s uncle, Kullya Mei, separately told Reuters the camp guards called him before they killed Kasim, and placed the phone to his nephew’s face. “He said: ‘They’re going to kill me. What did you do?'” Kullya Mei recalled.

The next thing he said he heard was his nephew screaming.

Reuters was unable to independently verify Kullya Mei’s account. Anuchon said police were investigating the allegation.

On Jan. 11, police intercepted a convoy with about 100 malnourished Rohingya huddled in trucks in the southern district of Hua Sai, said Anuchon, the police deputy commander. One woman was found dead, another two died later in hospital.

Arrests following that interception yielded phone records that allowed police to piece together some of the alleged network, Anuchon said. Kasim’s alleged killing helped yield further evidence, with police saying bank transfer slips showed payments to suspected network members.

The network grossed about 10 million baht ($302,147) a month, said Police Lieutenant Colonel Phongsathorn Kueaseng, an investigator on the case.

(Reporting By Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Sadao and Aubrey Belford in Nakhon Si Thammarat, with additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall in Bangkok; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

Emirates aims to introduce new ‘railway style’ first-class cabin this year

4 May 2015 Bloomberg

Emirates, the world’s biggest airline on international routes, said it’ll introduce a first-class cabin that allows more privacy at “commercially viable” rates, following the success of premium suites on its super jumbos.

The product will initially be rolled out on the airline’s Airbus A380 planes followed by the Boeing 777s, Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Emirates’ divisional senior vice president of commercial operations for the region, told reporters in Dubai.

Emirates’ president, Tim Clark, last year said the airline is developing a more exclusive first-class product centred around the bedroom concept. His comments came after Etihad Airways last May unveiled the Residence cabin on its first A380s, complete with a dedicated butler and three rooms.

“In the last two or three months, it has been in the final stage,” Mr Al Mualla said, adding that the new cabin will be unveiled “hopefully” this year and at “almost the same pricing” as current cabins. “It should be more commercially viable for passengers.”

A small percentage of luxury travellers are willing to pay top dollar for premium suites in the sky. Etihad’s Residence, which costs $20,000 for a one-way trip between Abu Dhabi and London permitting dual occupancy, had sold out the first 10 flights a month before it debuted in December.

Emirates’ product will be “more like if you’re in a railway and have a private cabin,” Mr Al Mualla said, adding it will be installed on routes that have a high load factor in first class.

Qatar Airways said it is working on a double-bed cabin with business-class catering to compete with its rivals’ costlier first-class products.

“Emirates has been a trendsetter in first class, it has a first-comer’s advantage,” said Mark Martin, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Martin Consulting. “I don’t think Etihad will create a dent in the first-class segment because Emirates has a bigger fleet. It’s going to help Emirates with jam-and-jelly revenue where their bread and butter has been economy.”

A retrofit and refurbishment will be costly, he added.

Royal baby media hysteria

3 May 2015

Yes, a rich woman in the UK gave birth to a baby girl yesterday.

Lego celebrated:

Meanwhile 7,000 people have died in the Nepal earthquake and a dreadful Rohingya mass grave has been found in Thailand. There is even a general election in four days.

A new family member is always a time for joy. But lets keep it to the family.

If you believe the media only one story mattered; the nation came to a grinding sycophantic halt. Bizarre really as the Cambridges (the name bestowed upon them) don’t even like the media.

So here are some of the worst excesses:

The Royal Navy shared a photo of their tribute—members standing in formation to spell “SISTER” on the deck of the HMS Lancaster.

Kate Middleton gives birth to the Princess the nation had longed for (The Telegraph – really?)

William, Kate take new princess home (USA Today – what exactly were they supposed to do with her?)

Let the cooing begin: America swoons over Britain’s new royal baby (The Guardian)

Kate Middleton Wears Yellow Floral Jenny Packham Dress for Royal Baby No. 2 (E! Online – honestly. Why not a Primark frock?)

after nearly two years of watching George’s evolution from chubby-cheeked infant to even chubbier-cheeked toddler, it appears he has truly, admirably handled his duties of being A Really Adorable Royal Baby. So, the natural question becomes: Can the second royal baby possibly measure up? (Washington Post – a once great newspaper).

Rumours the Duchess’s hairdresser has arrived at the Lindo Wing (Telegraph – with uncontrolled glee)

Heir and Spare cocktails, ice-cream made with BREAST MILK and royal piglet sweets: How food fans will mark the birth of William and Kate’s little princess; Licklators Royal Baby Gaga ice-cream is made with donated breast milk; The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant will serve two special Hennessy cocktails; M&S Percy and Penny Pig sweets have two piglet additions to the family (The Daily Mail – any story will do)

7 Prince George Outfits Royal Baby #2 Should Totally Borrow, Because Gender Stereotypes Should Be A Thing Of The Past (Bustle.co with a rather different angle!)

World celebrates Kate and Will’s newest royal addition (New York Daily News – fiction department)

Did the lunar cycle bring on Kate’s labour? Royal baby could have been affected by moon (Sunday Express – next story will be about a baby delivered by aliens!)

Prince William and Catherine spend their first day at home with new princess as Britain celebrates (ABC Australia – in breaking news tomorrow – the royals spend the second day at home with the baby!)

Who should govern Britain?

3 May 2015 – The Economist

Britain is a midsized island with outsized influence. Its parliamentary tradition, the City’s global role, the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, membership of the European Union and a history of leading revolutions in economic policy mean that British elections matter beyond Britain’s shores. But few have mattered more than the one on May 7th, when all these things are at stake.

Though you would never know it from the campaigns’ petty squabbling, the country is heading for profound and potentially irrevocable change. The polls suggest that no combination of parties will win a stable majority—which could be the death knell for strong government (see article). May 7th could also mark the point of no return for the troubled union between England and Scotland, thanks to a surge in support for the secessionist Scottish National Party (SNP). The Tories have promised to renegotiate Britain’s relations with the EU and put the result to an in/out referendum on membership by the end of 2017. Meanwhile Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, wants to remake British capitalism in pursuit of a fairer society. If he had his way, he would be the most economically radical premier since Margaret Thatcher.

If the stakes are high, the trade-offs are uncomfortable, at least for this newspaper. Our fealty is not to a political tribe, but to the liberal values that have guided us for 172 years. We believe in the radical centre: free markets, a limited state and an open, meritocratic society. These values led us to support Labour’s Tony Blair in 2001 and 2005. In 2010 we endorsed David Cameron, the Tory leader, seeing in him a willingness to tackle a yawning budget deficit and an ever-expanding state.

Five years on, the choice has become harder. The Tories’ Europhobia, which we regretted last time, could now do grave damage. A British exit from the EU would be a disaster, for both Britain and Europe. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are better on this score. But such is the suspicion many Britons feel towards Brussels that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is probably inevitable at some point. And we believe that the argument can be won on its merits.

The Lib Dems share our welcoming attitude towards immigrants and are keen to reform the voting system. But they can at most hope to be the junior partner in a coalition. The electorate, and this newspaper, therefore face a choice between a Conservative-dominated government and a Labour-dominated one. Despite the risk on Europe, the better choice is Mr Cameron’s Conservatives.

Our decision is based on the economy, where the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition has a stronger record than many realise and where Labour poses a greater risk. Admittedly, the macroeconomic signals are mixed. The budget deficit, at 5% of GDP, is still the second-highest in the G7. As Britons consume more than they produce, the current-account deficit is a worrying 5.5% of GDP. And although employment is high, living standards have suffered and productivity is weak. Adjusted for inflation, wages have fallen every year since 2009.

The Tories have made this squeeze on British living standards more painful, particularly for young people. They have protected pensioners from budget cuts and showered them with tax giveaways, forcing bigger sacrifices elsewhere. A failure to boost housing supply has led to soaring prices, also hitting the young. Some of the Tories’ election promises—to spare houses worth up to £1m ($1.5m) from inheritance tax and to sell social housing at a discount—are economically indefensible vote-buying gestures that will only add to the unfairness.

But three things count in the Tories’ favour. The coalition has cut the deficit more pragmatically than it admits and more progressively than its critics allow. When the economy weakened, the Tories eased the pace (although not by as much as this newspaper would have liked). Though the poorest Britons have been hit hard by spending cuts, the richest 10% have borne the greatest burden of extra taxes. Full-time workers earning the minimum wage pay a third as much income tax as in 2010. Overall, inequality has not widened—in contrast to America.

The record on public services is good. Government spending has fallen from 45.7% of GDP in 2010 to 40.7%, yet public satisfaction with the police and other services has gone up. Although almost 1m public-sector jobs have been cut, Britain has a higher share of people in work than ever before. From extra competition in education (with new free schools and academies) to the overhaul of the benefits system, public services are being revitalised. Some innovations have failed, including a rejigging of the National Health Service (NHS), but Britain’s reform of the state has been energetic and promising.

And lastly, in the short term, Britain’s weak productivity is the corollary of a jobs-rich, squeezed-wage recovery. Wage stagnation, as our briefing explains (see article), is not an exclusively British malaise. It is also preferable, both in economic efficiency and social equity, to the French or Italian disease of mass joblessness. Better to recover from a financial crash and deep recession with a flexible labour market in which wages adjust than through unemployment. Britain will be a model for Europe if the Tories can boost productivity—and they aim to do so by improving schools and infrastructure, giving power and money to cities and investing in science.

Labour has a different way to tackle what it calls the “crisis” in living standards. In fiscal terms, its agenda belongs to the moderate centre-left. Mr Miliband also promises deficit reduction, and at a pace that makes more macroeconomic sense than the Tories’ plan—though his numbers are vaguer, and Labour’s record makes them harder to believe. He proposes a bit more redistribution: Labour plans tax increases for the wealthy, including raising the top rate of tax back to 50%, from 45%, and imposing a “mansion tax” on houses worth more than £2m. Individually, many of these proposals are reasonable. (The annual mansion tax on a £3m London house would be only £3,000, a fraction of the levy on New York property.) But, taken together, these plans risk chasing away the most enterprising, particularly the footloose global talent that London attracts.

Labour’s greater threat lies not in redistribution, but in meddling. Mr Miliband believes that living standards are squeezed because markets are rigged—and that the government can step in to fix them. He would freeze prices while “reviewing” energy markets, clamp down on the most flexible “zero-hour” labour contracts and limit rent rises. Along with this suspicion of private markets is an aversion to competition in the public sector, leading to proposals for, say, a cap on profit margins when private companies contract to provide services for the NHS.

Mr Miliband is fond of comparing his progressivism to that of Teddy Roosevelt, America’s trustbusting president. But the comparison is false. Rather than using the state to boost competition, Mr Miliband wants a heavier state hand in markets—which betrays an ill-founded faith in the ingenuity and wisdom of government. Even a brief, limited intervention can cast a lasting pall over investment and enterprise—witness the 75% income-tax rate of France’s president, François Hollande. The danger is all the greater because a Labour government looks fated to depend on the SNP, which leans strongly to the left.

On May 7th voters must weigh the certainty of economic damage under Labour against the possibility of a costly EU exit under the Tories. With Labour, the likely partnership with the SNP increases the risk. For the Tories, a coalition with the Lib Dems would reduce it. On that calculus, the best hope for Britain is with a continuation of a Conservative-led coalition. That’s why our vote is for Mr Cameron.

The Observer view on why you should vote Labour

3 May 2015 The Observer

The gap between the richest and the rest was never wider, spectacular mergers produced giant companies that paid minimal taxes, and a democratic stalemate exposed the shortcomings of a political system creaking at the seams. No, not a retrospective look at 2015, but an account of late 19th-century America, a context that gave rise to the emergence of the radical new politics ushered in by Republican President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.

In a country increasingly divided and impoverished, he brokered a different kind of relationship between government and the people. The state intervened in a rampant market – driven by rapacious oligarchs – that advantaged big business at the expense of ordinary working men and women. Roosevelt pledged to curb the power of business, support organised labour and spoke out in support of the “common welfare”, and “a square deal” for all. Heaven knows what the early 21st-century press in Britain would have made of Red Ted.

At the heart of Roosevelt’s vision was not economics, but morality. “We must act upon the motto of all for each and each for all,” Teddy Roosevelt said in 1905. “…We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.”

In her 2013 bestseller The Bully Pulpit, Pulitzer prize winner, Doris Kearns Goodwin, described how the president challenged “a Congress long wedded to the reigning concept of laissez-faire – a government interfering as little as possible in the economic and social life of the people,” and proceeded to move legislation that protected workers’ rights, regulated the railroad industry, curbed the big food cartels and challenged the energy industry to lower prices. SS McClure, a hugely successful magazine editor at the time, said of Roosevelt: “He sounded in my heart the first trumpet call of our time to be.”

The UK general election campaign, so far, has heard no trumpet calls, no surges of enthusiasm for either of the two main parties. Instead, as the writer Gerry Hassan points out, the language of bold political debate has become defensive “pseudo-accountancy, spread sheets and promissory notes”.

The Conservative promise last week to introduce a law that would prevent any rise in VAT and taxes over the life of a parliament, was met with the derision it deserved. Not because it was a bad proposal (it was) but because the chancellor George Osborne had criticised a similar measure proposed by Alistair Darling in 2009. At the time Osborne said: “No other chancellor in the long history of the office has felt the need to pass a law in order to convince people that he has the political will to implement his own budget.” Political feints such as this entrench apathy, if not antipathy. Over-promising has been a mark of the campaign and the Institute of Fiscal Studies has criticised both main parties for leaving voters “in the dark” about their uncosted promises.

The debate over the economy has been no more inspiring. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have lashed themselves to a form of austerity, or austerity lite, even as the overwhelming view of macro economists in the US and the UK is that this has been damaging for growth. Britain’s recovery is fraught with weaknesses and made more fragile still by low productivity and low wages. We hear little about why, at a time of zero interest rates as leading economists such as Paul Krugman and Anthony Atkinson have argued, there is a strong economic case for the government to use capital spending to invest in social and physical infrastructure.

In the 1900s, SS McClure wrote that the “vitality of democracy” demanded “popular knowledge of complex questions”. The most complex question of our time domestically and globally has been the issue of inequality. As the chief economics commentator at the Financial Times noted yesterday, the debate “is just beginning. It will become louder.” Global inequality between countries is falling, but inequality within countries is rising.

That kind of inequality is a danger to the civic health of any nation. It is well-documented that those countries that enjoy the most equitable distribution of wealth are also the happiest. But it doesn’t only make civic sense to address inequality, it also makes economic sense. As Robert Reich, President Clinton’s former labour secretary, has made clear in his compelling documentary film Inequality For All, disposable income is the engine of the economy. When that income shrinks – as it has done – we all suffer. When income is increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people – who have less and less reason to spend – then the very foundations of capitalism are under real strain.

That is why this is a general election like none other. The country is at a fork in the road. Britain has an opportunity to lead a debate that could point us towards a more functional capitalism, a fairer society, and a happier country.

Yet the political debate struggles to rise to the challenge. Too much of the argument is about the narrow question of the public deficit, vastly exaggerated as an existential threat to the country. Defining our national problem in the language of book-keeping is part of the successful framing of the debate on Conservative terms. The country is invited to back a long-term economic plan and apparent recovery in what increasingly looks like an excuse to continue shrinking the state. It offers much reduced welfare and social provision, and promises never to increase but only decrease taxes.

This, runs the Conservative pitch, is the route to a moral society and the good life alike. Free markets, the profit motive and entrepreneurial effort will do the rest, liberated from the dead hand of government – British and European.

Justice, fairness, looking out for each other, and sharing wealth are to be relegated and at the mercy of the market. As Roosevelt recognised so many years ago, when the market doesn’t work, you fix it. The market needs fixing.

The Conservative doctrine – led by Osborne, fronted by Cameron – is at odds with economic, social and political reality. Ensuring that Britain has a critical mass of companies to exploit the multiple opportunities provided by the great new technologies triggered by digitalisation is much more problematic than just trusting in low tax and free markets. It requires a recognition that 21st-century capitalism has to be shaped by government.

All the international evidence is that companies grow and flourish in an ecosystem of public and private institutions – banks, research institutes, universities, venture capitalists, training agencies, ownership structures, pay systems – that are organised by governments to support company development. The internet was built on the back of vast public investment by the US government. The worldwide web came into being on the back of vast public monies – from Europe – that created the Cern institute, where the web was born.

But, under the prevailing orthodoxy, productivity has stagnated, but no matter – labour is cheap. A significant number of British workers are so poorly paid they pay no tax. Two thirds of the nearly three million children living in poverty are part of working families. Workers’ share of national income has significantly reduced in the last three decades.

Meanwhile, pay has exploded at the top – quadrupling in relation to average pay in a generation. The privileged live in gated communities, educate their young in private schools, are treated in private hospitals and feel no part of – nor obligation to – the common good. They feel no compunction in avoiding or even evading taxes: they share the conservative doctrine that taxes are in essence immoral – the state’s coercive intrusion into private lives, the confiscation of wealth to which it has no right and which it will squander. They have become a class apart, comfortingly justifying their wealth and position as a result of entrepreneurialism on which the rest of us depend.

The rules have become so distorted that even the Financial Times is calling for,”a new paradigm” in the high pay levels and disproportionate “rewards” given to the bosses. Last year, one FTSE chief executive was paid £43m, one thousand times more than his average employee.

All this against a set of challenges that are becoming increasingly evident – an ageing population, globalisation, the advances of technology, the decline of the trade unions, the deregulation of the financial sector, and the rise of the “flexible” zero-hours, low-wage, labour market.

The neo-liberal project – which took root during the 1980s – has manifestly failed. By its own metrics, it is working less and less well, for fewer and fewer people. This isn’t an opinion. This is fact. The countries with the highest levels of inequality among highest-income countries are the UK and the US.

The Conservatives’ response to this shrinking pie has been jaundiced, weak, and wrong-headed. They have helped create a dangerously divided society, and an increasingly divided Union. And their pledge to stage a referendum on EU membership could prove a reckless prelude to a bitter two-year struggle and a possible retreat into feeble isolation. The Conservative narrative is one where collectivism and the common good is diminished by a rhetoric that divides north versus south, England versus Scotland, old versus young; shirkers versus strivers; Britain versus Europe; immigrants versus the rest.

In an era of turbo-capitalism, the coalition’s dominant narrative has also demonised the welfare state. Proportionately, the poorest have borne the greater burden of the cuts; the most deprived local authorities have been required to get by with even less.

We most certainly are not “all in this together”. Increasingly, the welfare state offers support (housing benefit or tax credits) to those in work – people on minimum wages who are not paid enough to live on.

The International Monetary Fund has identified “inequality … as the greatest economic risk of the next decade”. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, argues that capitalism will destroy itself if it ignores its moral obligations. “Just as any revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long term dynamism of capitalism itself.”

It is the defining issue of our age, and each of the two main parties offer radically different approaches to how we can best rebuild a shattered system, and a bruised society. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said last month that the difference between Labour and Conservative was the biggest since 1992. “The electorate has a real choice.”

The choice is as much a moral and civic as an economic one. While the Conservatives would make £12bn in welfare cuts and attempt to eliminate the deficit in one parliament, Labour intends to borrow for investment, and make cuts of only £1bn, taking longer to tackle the deficit.

The Conservatives are not promising more of the same, but a newer phase of its project to cut the state. This will not, over the long term, help build a bigger economy, or help enrich growing numbers of people. It will not build a bigger, better, society, or a “good life”. One shouldn’t mistake ideology for good economics.

Such insurgency as there has been at least nominally tilted at austerity politics has come from Scotland, where the SNP is enjoying a remarkable surge in popularity. The “progressive” record of the SNP is patchy, though. On the NHS, on redistribution, on higher education it has delivered poorly; progressive in style but not substance. However, Sturgeon’s leadership has helped invigorate politics in Scotland. The attacks on the SNP’s legitimacy by the Conservatives are constitutionally inaccurate, short-termist and very likely to damage not protect the Union. It’s tactics, not strategy.

The political discourse has also been enlivened by the Green party although, interestingly, their participation has hardly increased our collective focus on environmental issues. But they have struck an effective anti-austerity note and have given voice to the importance of foregrounding the values of community engagement and collective responses to those most blighted by the aftermath of recession.

Ed Miliband, of the two main leaders with an opportunity to form a government, has a far more sophisticated vision of economic and social justice. But he is on course to increase his party’s share of the vote only marginally since 2010. He has offered a courageous if still partial reappraisal of contemporary capitalism on the one hand, while pursuing the usual game of making retail offers to voters even as he fights off New Labour’s reputation for risky profligacy and laxity on immigration.

Belatedly, though, Miliband is finding his voice. As he said yesterday, this election is not about the choice between two nations – England and Scotland – or between chaos and competence, but between two different visions. Miliband has shown resilience in trying to “break the consensus rather than succumb to it”.

His stand on Murdoch, his promise to freeze energy prices, his interest in small business supported by a state investment bank, his belief in a progressive capitalism that encourages long termism, invests in education and skills and reforms the financial markets is not “anti-business”. It stands for fair regulation, just taxation, strong redistribution, partnership in the EU and a vital role for a more efficient accountable state.

From the outset, Ed Miliband has staked his leadership on the bet that the crash of 2008 sounded the death-knell for the market fundamentalism that characterised the last three decades.

Progress in outlining a new capitalism has been fitful, piecemeal and cautious. But Labour’s direction of travel under Miliband is clear. Government, local and national, has a vital role in delivering the fair society.

The market economy is not morality-free. The balance of power between the competing interests in Britain needs to be tilted away from the powerful towards the less powerful. Austerity on the basis of a false requirement to balance accounts must not be the straitjacket that prevents the economy from growing.

Labour does not have all the answers. Far from it. But it is the only party which has correctly identified the task that faces our society. For that reason, it deserves to form the next government.

Thailand’s refugee shame

2 May 2015

Dozens of police and volunteers have now spent two days digging out a mass grave near a suspected human trafficking camp on a hillside deep in a southern Thai jungle.

The site is in Sadao district in Songkhla province. About 30 people are thought to be buried at the site.

Illegal migrants, many of them Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and Bangladesh, brave often perilous journeys by sea to escape religious and ethnic persecution and to seek jobs in Malaysia and Thailand, a regional trafficking hub.

At least one more human trafficking camp is thought to be located not far from the graves, said Police Colonel Anuchon Chamat, deputy commander of Nakorn Si Thammarat Provincial Police and a member of the investigation team.

Identifying victims could take time as relatives would need to travel from Myanmar and Bangladesh to offer DNA samples for testing and to identify belongings, where possible, said Police General Jarumporn Suramanee.

The abandoned camp, hidden high on a hill, was strewn with shoes and clothing. It had operated for about a year, police said.

“From the evidence given by witnesses who were in the camp, we believe there was violence here and people died from the violence,” said Jarumporn, without giving further details.

Human Rights Watch called for an independent investigation with U.N. involvement to find out what took place at the site and to bring justice.

“The discovery of these mass graves should shock the Thai government into shutting down the trafficking networks that enrich officials but prey on extremely vulnerable people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang has described the site as a “virtual prison camp” where migrants were held in makeshift bamboo cages.

A government spokesman issued a stern reaction on Saturday, saying Thailand was determined “to eliminate every type of human trafficking and block Thailand from being a transit point”.

Maj Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said those behind the camp would be “severely punished”, regardless of whether they are common criminals or corrupt officials.

So the search for scapegoats will begin soon.

The border zone with Malaysia is criss-crossed by trafficking trails and is notorious for its network of secret camps where smuggled migrants are held, usually against their will, until relatives pay up hefty ransoms.

Thailand says it is cracking down on the trafficking networks on its soil after revelations that government officers, police and navy officials have been involved in the lucrative trade in humans fleeing poverty and persecution.

In June the United States dumped Thailand to the bottom of its list, or to “Tier 3”, of countries accused of failing to tackle modern-day slavery.

Rights groups say traffickers are changing their tactics as the crackdown bites and are also holding thousands of migrants at sea for endless weeks awaiting payment before releasing them.

Thailand’s human trafficking problem is “out of control”, according to Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“The finding of a mass grave at a trafficking camp sadly comes as little surprise,” he said, urging the UN to join the probe to bring those responsible to justice.

But the story raises many questions: just how could the Thai Army miss a concentration camp along the sensitive and regularly patrolled Thai/Malaysia border? In reality the border area is totally under control of security forces. So the likelihood is that the Thai Army and Navy control human trafficking on land and sea.

The UN and others, including the United States, should urgently press the government to end official complicity and willful blindness in rampant trafficking in the country.

Rohingya who are apprehended in Thailand are treated as “illegal immigrants” subject to deportation without regard to the threats facing them in Burma. Rohingya men are sometimes detained in overcrowded immigration detention facilities across the country, while women and children have been sent to shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Many more are believed to be transferred through corrupt arrangements into the hands of human trafficking gangs where they face cruel treatment and no prospect of assistance from Thai authorities.

As with previous Thai governments, the military junta of Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha does not permit the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to properly conduct refugee status determination screenings of Rohingya.

“Each year, tens of thousands of Rohingya flee the dire human rights situation in Burma only to be further abused and exploited at the hands of traffickers in Thailand,” said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. “The discovery of these mass graves should shock the Thai government into shutting down the trafficking networks that enrich officials but prey on extremely vulnerable people. Instead of sticking Rohingya in border camps or immigration lockups, the government should provide safety and protection.”

Watford through the ages

2 May 2015

Football League Division Two Play-off Final, 21/05/06, 3.00pm
Leeds United 0(0)
Watford 3(1)
Team: Foster, Doyley, Demerit, Mackay, Stewart, Chambers, Mahon, Spring, Young, Henderson, King
Subs: Bangura (for Chambers, 72) , Chamberlain, Mariappa, Eagles, Bouazza
Booked: Spring, Doyley, Mahon
Scorers: Demerit (25), Sullivan (57, own goal), Henderson (84, pen)

Division 1 Playoff Final, 31/5/99
Watford 2(1)
Bolton Wanderers 0(0)
Team: Chamberlain, Bazeley, Kennedy, Page, Palmer, Robinson, Ngonge, Hyde, Mooney, Johnson, Wright
Subs: Hazan (for Wright), Day, Smart (for Ngonge)
Scorers: Wright (38), Smart (89)

FA Cup Final, 19/5/84
Everton 2(1)
Watford 0(0)
Team: Sherwood, Bardsley, Sinnott, Terry, Price, Taylor, Jackett, Callaghan, Johnston, Reilly, Barnes
Subs: Atkinson (for Price)

UEFA Cup 1st Round 2nd Leg, 28/9/83
Watford 3(2)
Kaiserslautern 0(0)
Team: Sherwood, Palmer, Rostron (Capt.), Jobson, Terry, Bolton, Callaghan, Richardson, Gilligan, Jackett, Barnes
Scorers: Richardson 2, o.g.

Football League Division 1, 14/5/83
Watford 2(1)
Liverpool 1(0)
Team: Sherwood; Rice, Rostron, Patching, Sims, Franklin, Callaghan, Blissett, Barnes, Jackett, Sterling
Scorers: Blissett, Patching

FA Cup 6th round
Watford 1 – 0 Liverpool
Saturday 21 February 1970
Attendance: 34,047
Team: Mike Walker, Duncan Welbourne, Johnny Williams, Ray Lugg, Walter Lees, Tom Walley, Stewart Scullion, Terry Garbett, Barry Endean, Mike Packer, Brian Owen – Manager – Ken Furphy

The Guardian view: Britain needs a new direction, Britain needs Labour

1 May 2015

The campaign is nearly over and it is time to choose. We believe Britain needs a new direction. At home, the economic recovery is only fragile, while social cohesion is threatened by the unequal impact of the financial crisis and the continuing attempt to shrink the postwar state. Abroad, Britain remains traumatised by its wars, and, like our neighbours, is spooked by Vladimir Putin, the rise of jihadist terrorism and by mounting migratory pressures. In parts of Britain, nationalist and religious identities are threatening older solidarities, while privacy and freedom sometimes feel under siege, even as we mark 800 years since Magna Carta. More people in Britain are leading longer, healthier and more satisfying lives than ever before – yet too many of those lives feel stressed in ways to which politics struggles to respond, much less to shape.

This is the context in which we must judge the record of the outgoing coalition and the choices on offer to voters on 7 May. Five years ago, Labour was exhausted and conflicted, amid disenchantment over war, recession and Gordon Brown’s leadership. The country was ready for a change, one we hoped would see a greatly strengthened Liberal Democrat presence in parliament combine with the core Labour tradition to reform politics after the expenses scandal. That did not happen. Instead the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have governed together for five difficult years.

That experiment has clearly run its course. The outgoing government proved that coalitions can function, which is important, and it can be proud of its achievements on equal marriage and foreign aid. But its record, as our recent series of editorials on detailed themes has shown, is dominated by an initial decision to pursue a needless and disastrous fiscal rigidity. That turned into a moral failure, by insisting on making the neediest and the least secure pay the highest price for an economic and financial crash that they did not cause. The evidence is there in the one million annual visits to foodbanks, a shocking figure in what is, still, a wealthy country.

David Cameron has been an increasingly weak prime minister. On issues such as Europe, the integrity of the United Kingdom, climate change, human rights and the spread of the low-wage economy, he has been content to lead the Tories back towards their nastiest and most Thatcherite comfort zones. All this is particularly disappointing after the promise of change that Mr Cameron once embodied.

The Conservative campaign has redoubled all this. Economically, the party offers more of the same, prioritising public-sector austerity which will worsen life for the most needy – imposing £12bn of largely unspecified welfare cuts – while doing little to ensure the rich and comfortable pay a fair share. Internationally, the party is set on a referendum over Europe which many of its activists hope will end in UK withdrawal. It’s also set on an isolationist abandonment of British commitment to international human rights conventions and norms, outcomes which this newspaper – unlike most others – will always do all in its power to oppose. At the same time, the Tories go out of their way to alienate Scotland and put the UK at risk. The two are related: if a 2017 referendum did result in a British exit from the EU, it could trigger a fresh and powerful demand for a Scottish exit from the UK. The Conservative campaign has been one of the tawdriest in decades.

The overriding priority on 7 May is therefore, first, to stop the Conservatives from returning to government and, second, to put a viable alternative in their place. For many decades, this newspaper’s guiding star has been the formulation offered by John Maynard Keynes in a speech in Manchester in 1926: “The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty.” The task on 7 May is to elect the parliament and government that will come closest to passing Keynes’s triple test.

Some despair of the whole system, believing a model created for two-party politics is now exhausted, failing to give adequate expression to the diverse society we have become. We are hardly newcomers to that view: we have demanded electoral reform for a century and believe that demand will find new vigour on 8 May. But for now, this is the voting system we’ve got. How should we use it?

To the charge that they enabled a government whose record we reject, the Liberal Democrats would plead that they made a difference, mitigating and blocking on issues such as Europe, the environment, child benefit and human rights, without which things would have been worse. That adds weight to the view that the next Commons would be enhanced by the presence of Lib Dem MPs to insist on the political reform and civil liberties agendas – as they did, almost alone, over Edward Snowden’s revelations. Similarly, it would be good to hear Green voices in Westminster to press further on climate change and sustainability. Where the real constituency choice is between these parties and the Conservatives, as it is between the Lib Dems and the Tories in the south-west, we support a vote for them. But they are not the answer.

In Scotland, politics is going through a cultural revolution. The energy and engagement on show are formidable – and welcome. The level of registration is an example to the rest of Britain. If the polls are right, and the SNP is returned as Scotland’s majority party, we must respect that choice – and would expect all parties that believe in the union, and the equal legitimacy of all its citizens, to do the same. We do that even as we maintain our view that, whatever myriad problems the peoples of these islands face, the solution is not nationalism. Breaking apart is not the answer: not in Europe and not in the UK. We still believe that the union rests on something precious – the social and economic solidarity of four distinct nations – and that is to be nurtured and strengthened, not turned against itself.

Which brings us to Labour. There have been times when a Labour vote has been, at best, a pragmatic choice – something to be undertaken without enthusiasm. This is not such a time. Of course there are misgivings. The party has some bad instincts – on civil liberties, penal policy and on Trident, about which it is too inflexible. Questions linger over Ed Miliband’s leadership, and whether he has that elusive quality that inspires others to follow.

But Mr Miliband has grown in this campaign. He may not have stardust or TV-ready charisma, but those are qualities that can be overvalued. He has resilience and, above all, a strong sense of what is just. Mr Miliband understood early one of the central questions of the age: inequality. While most Tories shrug at that yawning gap between rich and poor, Labour will at least strive to slow and even reverse the three-decade march towards an obscenely unequal society. It is Labour that speaks with more urgency than its rivals on social justice, standing up to predatory capitalism, on investment for growth, on reforming and strengthening the public realm, Britain’s place in Europe and international development – and which has a record in government that it can be more proud of than it sometimes lets on.

In each area, Labour could go further and be bolder. But the contrast between them and the Conservatives is sharp. While Labour would repeal the bedroom tax, the Tories are set on those £12bn of cuts to social security, cuts that will have a concrete and painful impact on real lives. Even if they don’t affect you, they will affect your disabled neighbour, reliant on a vital service that suddenly gets slashed, or the woman down the street, already working an exhausting double shift and still not able to feed her children without the help of benefits that are about to be squeezed yet further. For those people, and for many others, a Labour government can make a very big difference.

This newspaper has never been a cheerleader for the Labour party. We are not now. But our view is clear. Labour provides the best hope for starting to tackle the turbulent issues facing us. On 7 May, as this country makes a profound decision about its future, we hope Britain turns to Labour.

Our electoral system is absurd. Time to change it

1 May 2015 Owen Jones in The Guardian

Our electoral system is no longer creaking: it’s disintegrating around us, showering the political elite with occasional bits of rubble. Lord Gus O’Donnell is no firebrand radical, he’s a crossbench peer who used to head the civil service, but he knows the current political system rests on rapidly shifting tectonic plates. Whatever happens next week, a decisive result is almost impossible, further undermining the legitimacy of an increasingly absurd electoral system.

First-past-the-post was supposed to deliver stable, majority governments: that’s its whole USP. To deliver one full-term hung parliament might be written off as a quirk, an accident: but two begins to look like a trend. If the electorate delivers a left-of-centre majority in parliament next week and Labour assembles a government, its own legitimacy will be under relentless assault by an increasingly unhinged rightwing media. It must surely respond with a referendum on proportional representation.

Oh come off it, some will object. You had your referendum on electoral reform a few years ago. It was decisively rejected by the electorate, burying the issue for a generation. But like most of those who took part in 2011, I voted against the option on the table, the alternative vote system – which would have allowed voters to rank candidates in order of preference. This wasn’t because I thought it didn’t go far enough. All electoral systems are a compromise when no party wins more than half the vote. My view was that AV would hand disproportionate influence to the third party – then the Lib Dems, now Ukip – because Labour and the Tories would have to compete for their second preference votes. And like many Britons following the Clegg-Cameron love-in, I believed coalitions involved undemocratic stitch-ups behind closed doors, where governments were assembled that no one voted for and election promises could be easily ditched in the name of compromise.

Such an objection is now redundant. If we’re going to end up with hung parliaments whatever happens, we might as well have representative hung parliaments. Our electoral system is designed for the hegemony of two parties – well, two and a half parties at most. But while nearly all voters opted for Labour and the Conservatives in the 1950s, the combined share is down to about 65%. In Scotland, Labour face wipe-out at the hands of the SNP; in England and Wales, we’ve witnessed the rise of Ukip and the Greens. The two-and-a-half party system has artificially been kept alive, in stasis, by the electoral system, but now the signs of morbidity are becoming impossible to ignore. The political system is increasingly colliding with the reality of political fragmentation.

Couldn’t it just all revert to how things were? It’s possible, I suppose, but that’s surely deeply unlikely. The Tories once amassed votes in Scotland and much of northern England where they are now permanently relegated to second-party status; their membership peaked in the 1950s with nearly 3 million, and is now down to a paltry 134,000; the old religious sectarian divisions they benefited from have diminished. Labour’s support is complicated by the halving of trade union membership, the shift from an industrial working-class to a more insecure and fragmented service sector working-class. Today’s political complexity is simply a reflection of a diversifying social base.

It surely makes sense for Labour to offer a referendum on proportional representation. It would help win over Greens who resent tactical voting, but could be persuaded on the basis of a Labour-led government that could forever banish wasted votes. It would rebut the growing attacks on the democratic legitimacy of a Labour-led government that hasn’t even been formed. It would show a farsighted rejection of political tribalism. Labour will not do so now, because they believe it will only increase media-fanned fears of the influence of smaller parties. But if Labour come second in seats and form a government, they may find that such a referendum is the only way of deflecting a media-led assault. If the minor parties were political savvy, they would offer support only if such a referendum was forthcoming. First-past-the-post lives to fight another election. Who knows, though. It could well be its last.

Super-connecting the world

The advance of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, latterly joined by Turkish Airlines, looks set to continue

1 May 2015 – The Economist

The Gulf states have been on the radar of the world’s airlines since the 1930s. Then Dubai, a pearl-fishing port, served as a stopover for the flying boats of Imperial Airways (a forerunner of BA) on routes connecting London to distant colonial outposts. BA still serves Dubai but most of the tail fins at its vast main airport, which recently overtook London’s Heathrow as the world’s busiest for international traffic, carry the logo of Emirates, the small state’s own network airline. The balance of power among the world’s carriers has shifted.

A decade ago Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, were insignificant. But these three “super-connectors”, in recent years joined by Turkish Airlines, increasingly dominate long-haul routes between Europe and Asia. Whereas most other international airlines rely heavily on travellers to or from their home countries, the super-connectors’ passengers mostly just change planes at the carriers’ hub airports on their way to somewhere else. Last year the four carriers flew about 115m people into and out of their hubs in the Gulf or Istanbul, compared with 50m in 2008. Their combined fleet has swollen to more than 700 aircraft and they have a further 900 or so on order.

The West’s legacy airlines are understandably fearful of the super-connectors. All have grown at spectacular rates; Emirates is now by far the world’s biggest international carrier (see chart). Europe’s struggling national airlines, such as Lufthansa and Air France KLM (AF-KLM), were among the first to start losing market share to the super-connectors. They are now suffering the same devastation on long-haul routes that low-cost carriers (LCCs) like Ryanair and EasyJet have inflicted on their shorter routes. As Andrew Charlton of Aviation Advocacy, a consulting firm, puts it: “The LCCs ate European airlines’ lunch; the Gulf carriers are coming to eat their dinner.” Lufthansa says its Frankfurt hub has lost nearly a third of its market share on routes between Europe and Asia since 2005, with more than 3m people now flying annually from Germany to other destinations via Gulf hubs.

Now the grumbling is getting louder from across the Atlantic, as America’s airlines begin to feel the heat. This week a lobby group backed by Delta, American and United Airlines released documents to back up a report it put out in February, accusing the three Gulf carriers of having been given $42 billion in assistance by their state owners in the past decade.

Emirates now publishes full accounts but Etihad and Qatar still do not. However, the American carriers’ investigators dug up documents filed with regulatory authorities around the world, from Belgium to Australia, which in some cases include detailed accounts going back a number of years. Some of the benefits allegedly received by the Gulf airlines—such as zero-interest loans with no arrangements for repayment, and grants of land—would if confirmed seem to fall under the heading of subsidies.

Others, such as the low labour costs that the Gulf airlines enjoy, partly because of their home states’ ban on unions, and the benefits they, like other businesses in the Gulf, gain from those states’ generally low tax rates, would seem legitimate means of promoting business development. The cache of documents is enough to keep lawyers, accountants and trade economists arguing for years—but at the least it suggests that the Gulf three have some explaining to do if they are to justify claims they are standing on their own feet.

The legacy carriers gripe too about the massive airports, with cheap landing charges, that their home governments have built for the Gulf airlines. Although Turkish is part-privatised, it still enjoys strong support from the government, which has ordered the building of a massive new airport on Istanbul’s outskirts, with about twice the capacity of Heathrow, so its flag-carrier has space to keep growing.

Allegations of unfair advantages explain only so much, however. For one thing, the West’s legacy airlines have not lacked for state protection of their own. For another, the super-connectors’ rapid advance is in large part down to something out of policymakers’ control—location. The Gulf is handily placed between Europe, Asia, Africa and America: all are in range of modern long-haul jets. Istanbul, on the edge of Europe, is a short-haul flight from 55 capital cities. Both are ideal for consolidating traffic to and from many destinations. Fares can be kept low because of the efficiency of their long-haul-to-long-haul model.

The four super-connectors are spending huge sums expanding their fleets with the latest, most efficient jets. Their staff are young and keen, and the airlines spend lavishly on marketing their in-flight service and widening range of destinations. In 2001 Emirates and Qatar both flew from 17 destinations in Europe. Now both serve 32. Turkish sucks up passengers from 84 European airports. Besides increasing the number of European cities it flies from, Etihad has taken stakes in several European carriers, including Alitalia of Italy and Airberlin of Germany. The super-connectors have likewise added lots of new destinations in Asia, whereas the European flag-carriers have expanded their route maps more cautiously. As a result, the super-connectors’ share of booming Europe-to-Asia travel has shot up.

In similar fashion the super-connectors and their hubs have been siphoning off an increasing share of air traffic into and out of Africa—still a relatively small market for aviation, but one that has grown rapidly, especially given Asian economies’ interests in its natural resources.

And now they are ramping up their services to North America. To the dismay of America’s international carriers, in the weeks since they launched their broadside against the Gulf airlines’ alleged subsidies, Emirates has announced a new service to Orlando and extra flights to Boston and Seattle. Turkish, meanwhile, has just begun non-stop flights to San Francisco, its 11th destination in the Americas, and plans to add Atlanta and Mexico City, among others. As the super-connectors encroach onto American runways, passengers are likely to vote with their wheelie-bags. According to Skytrax, a research firm, they all ranked in the top ten of the world’s best airlines. The highest placed of America’s big three is Delta, at 49th.

The reaction of most of the established airlines has been two-pronged—complaining, and further rounds of cost-cutting on top of what they have already had to pare to cope with the arrival of the LCCs. One exception is IAG, owner of BA. It managed to slash costs at Iberia and has avoided much of the turbulence created by the super-connectors. Indeed IAG, in which Qatar owns a 10% stake, recently pulled out of a European trade association saying the group’s opposition to the super-connectors, led by AF-KLM and Lufthansa, was no longer consistent with its own position.

AF-KLM and Lufthansa themselves have tried to make up for years of bad management by beefing up their budget subsidiaries, Transavia and Germanwings. They have met stiff resistance from within. Pilots have gone on strike repeatedly over the past year to oppose various changes the airlines are making to become more competitive. AF-KLM has had the bumpier ride of the two. It issued three profit warnings in 2014, has shed 8,000 jobs over the past three years and plans to lose another 800 employees as it cuts investment and delays delivery of some new aircraft.

Berating the new opponents for perceived injustices has also failed so far. The legacy carriers want changes to the bilateral “open skies” agreements that have allowed the super-connectors access to European airports, and which they had supported back when the Gulf airlines were minnows. Lufthansa and AF-KLM have asked the European Commission to press for “fair competition” provisions for current and future air treaties. America’s three big international carriers want the Obama administration to stop the super-connectors from adding routes.

Open-skies treaties can be watered down without ripping them up. Governments can dither and delay. Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost carrier, has been hampered by American regulators, at the urging of industry lobbyists, in its efforts to expand services across the Atlantic. But so far there has been little overt gain to the incumbents from their griping.

Indeed, it may have done some damage. Delta’s boss, Richard Anderson, gratuitously noted in an interview that the Gulf carriers are based in the part of the world that bred the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attack on America, before apologising for the remark. And in response to the subsidy accusations levelled by the American carriers, the Business Travel Coalition, a lobby group backed by travel agents among others, has begun drawing attention to the support that America’s government has given to its aviation industry over the years.

The West’s legacy carriers put a lot of effort into letting politicians know about their concerns. But the chances that the American and European governments will roll back their open-skies commitments and halt the expansion of the super-connectors do not look good. American and European makers of aircraft and engines, which are benefiting hugely from the expansion of the super-connectors’ fleets, also form a powerful lobby. So do passengers, who have shown little sympathy for their struggling national airlines and plenty of interest in their rivals’ cheap fares.

If anything, matters can only get worse for the legacy carriers. If Norwegian makes a go of low-cost transatlantic flights, Ryanair and others will pile in. China’s huge, state-backed airlines are surely planning to boost their market share on Pacific routes. And the high profits that America’s airlines have recently been enjoying at home are likely to encourage the expansion of low-cost carriers there. In all, the future looks poor for investors in the legacy airlines. For travellers, however, the age of cheap flying is set to go on and on.

Indonesia’s shame

28 April 2015

This was a day that will live long in infamy in Indonesia. Eight men were executed tonight – shot by firing squad while tied to a wooden stake. All were sentenced for drug related offences. One was Indonesian; the other seven were foreigners.

The execution of a Filipino woman was suspended at the last minute due to new evidence arising in the Philippines.

Many have been waiting on death row for years.

The United Nations is very clear on this issue – “Under international law, the death penalty is regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if it is used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, that is, those involving intentional killing, and only after a fair trial, among other safeguards.”

While the UN opposes the death penalty in all circumstances they recognise that some nations still insist on its use and their position is pragmatic. Ban Ki-Moon, who was one f may world leaders to plea today for clemency, said “drug-related offences generally are not considered to fall under the category of ‘most serious crimes’,” he said.

Executing a few drug mules who were young/stupid/duped/ or even simply guilty as charged, after dubious legal processes is morally evil. It also fails to solve the drug trafficking problem by failing to get at the real criminals.

The role of the state needs to be to offer a chance at redemption not to exact the ultimate retribution.

No one was calling for the release of the nine (although the conviction of the Filipino lady appears the weakest of all). People were calling for clemency. For the chance of life. Albeit served behind bars.

The Australian and French governments issued a joint statement together with the European Union appealing for President Widodo to halt the planned execution.

The statement, reported in Fairfax Media via its Indonesian correspondent Jewel Topsfield, says:

“The Government of Australia, France and the European Union appeal to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to halt the planned execution. It is not too late to change your mind.

It is our hope that Indonesia can show forgiveness to ten detainees. Forgiveness and rehabilitation are fundamental to the Indonesian judicial system as well as in our system.

In filing this petition, we ask Indonesia also reflect the impact on Indonesia’s position in a globalized world and an international reputation. We support Indonesia’s efforts to obtain forgiveness for its citizens abroad. Stopping this execution will help those efforts.

We strongly support the UN Secretary General’s statement, in which he calls upon Indonesia to refrain from carrying out executions and urge President Widodo to urgently consider declaring a moratorium on the death penalty in Indonesia.

We fully respect the sovereignty of Indonesia. But we are against the death penalty in our country and abroad. The execution will not give deterrent effect to drug trafficking or stop the other from becoming victims will abuse drugs. To execute these prisoners now will not achieve anything.”

Widido ignored every call for clemency. The executions went ahead. The process is awful. For the families it must be a nightmare. There are few greater displays of abuse of State power and regressive thinking than the death penalty.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:

“These executions are utterly reprehensible – they were carried out with complete disregard for internationally recognised safeguards on the use of the death penalty.

President Joko Widodo should immediately abandon plans to carry out further executions and impose a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards abolition.

The death penalty is always a human rights violation, but there are a number of factors that make today’s executions even more distressing.

Some of the prisoners were reportedly not provided access to competent lawyers or interpreters during their arrest and initial trial, in violation of their right to a fair trial which is recognised under international and national law.

One of those executed today, Rodrigo Gularte, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and international law clearly prohibits the use of the death penalty against those with mental disabilities.

It’s also troubling that people convicted of drug trafficking have been executed, even though this does not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law.”

Indonesia’s shame. And it will be interesting to see what action the Australians in particular take now that two of their citizens have been executed.

In the meantime: RIP:

Andrew Chan
Myuran Sukumaran
Sylvester O. Nwolise
Okwudili Oyatanze
Raheem A. Salami
Martin Anderson
Rodrigo M. Gularte
Zainal Abidin

Thai police say more than 200 lèse majesté cases closed in 6 months

27 Aril 2015 Prachatai

The Thai police said on Friday that they have closed about 50 per cent of more than 400 lèse majesté cases filed with them in the past six months. Also, more than 25,000 websites were closed because of lèse majesté.

The police reported their six-month results at a press conference at the Royal Thai Police Headquarters on Friday.

During the press conference, attended by about 100 civil servants, entrepreneurs, and medical volunteers, the police said they have closed 239 of 443 lèse majesté cases in the past six months. There are 76 more cases under the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the Attorney General. 128 cases are currently under investigation.

The police added that they closed 25,069 websites disseminating lèse majesté content.

They also said that they have continued to monitor online media for lèse majesté content.

Since protecting the monarchy is the police’s top priority, the police also work hard to help raise the awareness of the Thai people to be loyal to the monarchy. They also continue to follow and support several Royal Projects.

UAE residents warned against photographing aircraft

26 April 2015 From The National

(Don’t shoot the messenger. I think this is insane in a city and a country that spends vast sums promoting aviation – its airlines, airports and supporting industries) as key to the growth of their economies. They would be far better served creating an environment – viewing area etc) that supports hobbyists rather than jailing them for taking a serious interest in the very business that the UAE is promoting).

Airport authorities and plane spotting enthusiasts have cautioned against taking photographs of aircraft in the UAE without permission, citing the two-month imprisonment of three British hobbyists as a warning to others planning a trip to the region.

“Any request to film or photograph aircraft from within or around the airports has to follow a strict approval process before an individual or group is granted access,” said a spokesman from Dubai Airports.

“Dubai International and Al Maktoum International at DWC are secure environments with restricted access to ensure the safety and security of our passengers, employees and stakeholders.”

The response from authorities comes after a judge from the state security division of the Federal Supreme Court ordered the release of plane spotters and British tourists Conrad Clitheroe, Gary Cooper along with their friend and UAE resident Neil Munro.

Abu Dhabi International Airport also specifies on its website that permission is required for photography and videography. It grants site visits to certain areas of the airport after the required documentation and reasons for filming are submitted to airport authorities.

Complying with local security laws and understanding that the hobby is not recognised here as it is in the West was important, planespotters said.

“I’m glad they got their freedom and can reunite with their family but it’s a lesson learnt to be cautious about local rules and not take photographs without permission,” said UAE-based plane spotter Sam C, a hobbyist for 20 years.

“People believe that a military plane is off limits, but photography of a commercial plane is all right, but the bottom line is we need permission. Authorities may worry that an image could be used for surveillance, by someone with bad intentions. So it’s a very tricky situation. I won’t risk it if I don’t have permission. I will view planes and not take pictures.”

Taking photos in restricted areas such as embassies, palaces, airports, security facilities can result in between one and three months in jail, or fines up to Dh5,000, according to UAE law.

Some areas such as military buildings, palaces and courts have signs prohibiting photography and police can ask people to stop taking pictures or video in restricted areas without warning signs.

Dubai airport has been a popular site for plane spotters with details widely available on the internet about rooftops and car parks that can be used as vantage points. Spotters said they came to Dubai to watch rare planes from more than 100 countries.

Hobbyists are warned on most websites that they may be subjected to security checks with the possibility of Dubai police asking them to delete photographs and Fujairah is described as a no-go area due to high surveillance.

Enthusiasts appealed to UAE authorities not see them as a threat since they usually photograph planes in flight.

“It would be very helpful for us to get something like a spotting permit which we can show the officers if they check us,” said Julian Mittnacht, a spotter from Germany who has travelled to several countries including the Emirates for his hobby.

“We never take pictures of buildings or restricted areas in Dubai. Just the planes in the air are our target. I’m happy the men were released. Every single day in prison is one day too much.”

The British plane spotters were arrested on February 22 when Fujairah police found them near the airport taking notes about the planes. The men pleaded not guilty to taking photographs of planes at Fujairah airport but Judge Falah Al Hajeri on Monday last week said the court had 72 pictures of an airport that were presented as evidence.

The men were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, but since they had already spent two months in jail awaiting trial, their sentences had been served.

Plane spotters share dramatic photographs of planes framed with a city skyline. Others makes notes of registration numbers of aircraft and compile logos and markings.

A baby-sitters’ charter

Thailand takes a big constitutional step backwards

25 April 2015 The Economist

THE junta that has ruled Thailand since a coup last May says it will hand back power only after it has healed political and social rifts that make democracy unworkable. On April 26th its placemen in a “reform” committee are due to finish debating the first full version of a planned new constitution intended to do just that. The charter, supposedly inspired by Germany’s electoral system, must receive royal assent by September if promised polls are to take place by the middle of next year. But it will not heal Thailand’s deep political wounds. Instead, it may well aggravate them.

Leaked on April 17th, a text of the charter confirmed rumours that had already been circulating. Its first objective appears to be to neuter Pheu Thai, a populist party hated by the establishment, but which has won every election since 2001 under various guises. By beefing up a system of proportional representation, the charter will make it difficult for any party to win a parliamentary majority. It would thus force endless coalitions between Pheu Thai and other parties—even its nemesis, the pro-establishment Democrat Party. It would also allow for an unelected prime minister, should no legislator earn enough support.

The constitution will probably also see the lower house pushed around by an enlarged and more powerful senate. Not much more than one-third of the senators will be elected, down from half at present (and only candidates vetted by the establishment will be allowed to stand). Ten or so other institutions will help to baby-sit the politicians, including a “National Moral Assembly” which will punish those who act unethically, a catch-all term that could be used against government critics. Three-quarters of the 120 seats in a new “National Reform Assembly” will be reserved for toadies now serving in one of the junta’s various conclaves. Their job will be to prevent any future government deviating from a legislative programme that the generals are now laying down.

The planned constitution—Thailand’s 20th since 1932—marks a sharp retreat from the liberal charter adopted in 1997, which had already been hobbled by amendments made by another military government eight years ago. It will allow the army to keep control until a royal succession after the ageing king’s death, and probably for long after. One clause appears to limit more explicitly the king’s ability to intervene in future bouts of political unrest, perhaps for fear that the next monarch will prove soft on enemies of the royalist establishment such as Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former prime minister who dominates Pheu Thai from exile.

A few months remain before the document becomes law. Optimists note that the army has watered down some egregious early proposals in response to public complaints. But only cosmetic changes are now likely. Hopes for a referendum are also low. For all the talk of democracy, the army is growing more autocratic as its difficulties mount: it lifted martial law on March 31st, but replaced it with a decree that grants the coup-maker turned prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, even greater power. The officials penning the new constitution say they hope it will guard against “parliamentary

Starry, starry night

A meditation on life above the clouds

Apr 25th 2015 The Economist

(For anyone who loves flying this is a gentle, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable read).

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. By Mark Vanhoenacker. Chatto & Windus; £16.99. To be published in America by Knopf in June.

How much does Mark Vanhoenacker love flying? Consider this, poor reader, when next you are wedged into a middle seat between squalling child and armrest hog, or ruing a battery just gone dead in the fourth hour of a thrice-extended delay. When Mr Vanhoenacker was a young man, after university and postgraduate study, he became a management consultant because he judged it the profession that would let him spend most time on aeroplanes. But even that proved insufficient, and after a few years he began training to become a pilot. Today he flies a Boeing 747 for British Airways.

One might think that a commercial pilot would grow inured to the essential strangeness of air travel: how people can step into a metal box outside their flats, descend below street level and enter another metal box, this one on wheels, that takes them to an airport, where they board yet another metal box that will deliver them halfway round the world in the time it takes to eat dinner, nap and watch two films. Many of Mr Vanhoenacker’s former colleagues in management consulting probably fly from Boston to Tokyo or London more often than they drive from Boston to, say, New Haven, which is just two hours away on a well-travelled motorway. When Americans living in Singapore fly home for Christmas, they travel more miles in one round trip than generations of their ancestors did in their entire lives. Do this often enough and you stop even noticing how unprecedented in human history it is that you are doing it at all.

Mr Vanhoenacker, fortunately for his readers, has lost none of his sense of wonder at the miracle of flight itself—those “hours in the high country, when lightness is lent to us”. It suffuses “Skyfaring”, which is less a memoir than an enthusiast’s meditation on the life of a pilot. Fittingly for a meditation, very little happens in the book. Instead, it is a beautifully observed collection of details, scenes, emotions and facts from the world above the world that pilots inhabit.

That world revolves around “place lag”, the author’s nifty term for “the inability of our deep old sense of place to keep up with our aeroplanes”. This malady affects pilots more acutely than standard jet lag, because they rarely stay in one place long enough to switch from their home time. Mr Vanhoenacker warmly portrays that floating rootlessness—how a community forms over dinners in Beijing, hikes in Cape Town and breakfasts in Los Angeles. After returning home from South Africa he stands over his sink, rinsing dust from his trainers and reminding himself that, “This is the red of the soil under the South African tree, from the morning I saw the weavers and their nests.” He must remind himself not only that he was just there, but also which of his many brief “theres” this particular dust comes from.

At times the book’s lack of narrative propulsion palls a little. Beautifully observed as they are, pages upon pages about clouds, fog and the vast emptiness of the night sky can seem repetitive. What rescues it is Mr Vanhoenacker’s attunement to wisps of sensual, rooted specificity, such as the scents above different cities that waft into the cockpit—the “unique and rich, faintly smoky” smell of Indian cities, the “snow-air mixes with salt” of Boston or how flying over a river near his friend’s home in New England reminds him of “the table they laid for me, and the grateful pilot who came to their place…and felt no sort of lag, until it was time to fly away.”

Thai generals seek to entrench ‘father-knows-best’ government

23 April 2015 The Financial Times: Michael Peel in Bangkok

Politicians’ stock is pretty low in many parts of the world, but spare a thought for prospective members of Thailand’s parliament.

Under a draft constitution now under consideration by the country’s military rulers, a new National Moral Assembly could bar them from office if they were held to be of bad character. Those who make it into parliament would work under licence: they would be banned from passing laws that “establish political popularity” that could prove “detrimental to national economic [interests] or the public in the long run”.

These and other curbs on the power of elected representatives proposed in this 315-article blueprint for the future of the southeast Asian country may sound absurd.

But there is nothing comical about this attempt by the military junta and its allies to entrench what one commentator brands “father-knows-best” government. It is part of an expanding effort by the generals and their placemen and women to reshape the country they seized in a coup in May last year — whatever the social, political and economic costs.

The leaked document now being circulated is a product of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, one of many bodies used by the junta to make its vision of Thailand a reality. The draft has gone in the past week to the generals’ handpicked National Reform Council. It may or may not be put to a referendum. Either way, the generals appear determined to enshrine it, or something close to it, in law.

While the proposals have prompted measured criticisms from politicians on all sides and from some analysts, the junta’s crackdown on protest and free expression has stifled opposition and debate.

The draft proposes sweeping measures to entrench and enhance the powers of bureaucrats, the military and political appointees, at the expense of the big political parties. The senate, fully elected a decade ago, would reserve only 77 of 200 seats to voters — and even these would be filled only by vetted candidates. The prime minister would no longer need to be an elected politician, while courts that have already trampled on voters’ wishes over the past seven years by sacking three premiers and twice outlawing the most popular political party would enjoy still greater sway.

Defenders of the new arrangements say they are essential to stopping the conflict and corruption that have plagued the country for a decade and placed an economic drag on this former regional dynamo.

Thailand’s old urban political establishment has been at war with Thaksin Shinawatra, a plutocrat turned prime minister whose parties have won every election since 2001 on the back of support from millions of rural voters.

The new constitution will help end “conflicts, disunity and undemocratic fights”, General Lertrat Ratanavanich, a spokesman for the constitution drafting committee, has insisted.

The draft constitution is part of an expanding effort by the generals and their placemen and women to reshape the country they seized in a coup in May last year — whatever the social, political and economic costs

But the junta has had much less to say about who will guard its self-appointed guardians. While few non-partisan voices dispute that graft flourished under Thaksin-allied governments, the pro-junta traditional elite has had plenty of historic scandals of its own.

The military itself remains a black box, never held accountable for mass killings of protesters or for procurement fiascos, such as the millions of dollars paid to a British conman for fake bomb detectors.

There is no sign yet of the generals in Bangkok facing organised open resistance or losing their grip on security. But, much as some more authoritarian figures in Thailand’s establishment might wish it, their country is not China — people have grown used to elections in which their votes count. Some past Thai military rulers proved to have a sell-by date, triggering street demonstrations when people felt they had become draconian or too domineering.

The latest junta’s moralising style has a certain traction in a country where people have grown sick of corruption and where, for good and ill, longstanding hierarchies and institutions still hold significant sway. But such an approach also has obvious limits in a modern and open state, especially if the moralisers are shown not to be living up to their own homilies.

The question now worrying moderates and democrats on all sides is: are the 2015 vintage of generals about to test their pet theories of social order to destruction?

Europe cannot ignore the refugee plight

22 April 2015

Another boat filled with up to 950 people seeking refuge in Europe sank last Sunday.

In the first four months of this year 1,500 people have drowned while seeking refuge in Europe. The Guardian reports that is at least 30 times higher than the figure from the same time in 2014.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen called for a Europe wide response to the crisis, saying:

“How many more will have to drown before EU governments, including the UK, wake up to their responsibilities to save lives?

The Economist wrote that: ““A refugee crisis is hard to cope with because its very existence is a symptom of warfare, persecution or misrule. You cannot stop the tide of refugees because, this side of Utopia, you cannot impose peace upon Libya and Syria or wish good government on Eritrea and Somalia. You cannot let everyone in, because refugees mingle with people in search of prosperity—and states want to choose their economic migrants, not be chosen by them. On the other hand you cannot keep everyone out, because, after the crimes of the second world war, countries made solemn undertakings never again to abandon innocent people to persecution and conflict.”

It is easy to forget that these are people no different from you and me, our families and our friends. The Guardian cites “one survivor of a [migrant boat] sinking off Malta [who] recounted spending several days clinging to a buoyancy aid along with a teenage Egyptian whose hope was to pay for heart medicine for his father. The youth drowned before they could be saved”.

Over recent years, millions of people have been forced to escape wars, state collapse, political repression and economic desperation across the Middle East and North Africa. The overwhelming majority have been displaced within the region, but thousands have also sought safety and refuge in Europe. Due to legal routes being systematically closed off, many have resorted to crossing the Mediterranean in dangerously flimsy or overloaded craft provided by people smugglers.

Following high numbers of deaths, the Italian government put a search and rescue operation in place at the end of 2013. “Operation Mare Nostrum” is thought to have saved around 150,000 lives over the course of last year.

When Italy asked EU states for financial support for Mare Nostrum, UK Home Secretary Theresa May reportedly “played a leading role” in the decision to respond with pressure on Rome to scrap the scheme instead. “When there were signs that the Italians were reluctant to wind down Mare Nostrum, May [again demanded], along with others, that it be ended immediately”.

The arguments against Mare Nostrum were, bizarrely, that saving people from drowning represented a “pull factor” that encouraged more to attempt the crossing, ignoring the horrific conditions that left migrants regarding the lethal dangers of the sea as the least bad option available to them. The search and rescue effort was thus brought to an end, despite warnings from Amnesty International that this “would put the lives of thousands of migrants and refugees at risk”.

But the numbers attempting the journey have not decreased because people are being pushed, not pulled, with desperation forcing them to accept the risks involved. All that has changed is that hundreds more are now dying, as Amnesty and others predicted.

Targeting the traffickers in Libya may temporarily reduce their activity in the Mediterranean. But, like ticket touts, they will be replaced. Even an effective clampdown, were it possible, would only move the problem down a bit. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are already dealing with explosive levels of youth unemployment.

The sub-Saharan migrants are determined. Before heading out to sea, they have already crossed the Sahara – a journey that may kill more travellers than the Mediterranean. West African migrants I have spoken to are not fleeing poverty. They are in revolt: against injustice, indignity, impunity and institutionalised corruption. Nor are they likely to be benefit scroungers – the humiliation of depending on others is precisely what they are leaving behind.

In the shorter term reintroducing Mare Nostrum to save lives has to be done. The Italian lead on this has been commendable. Targetting the traffickers to stop the boats from leaving will help.

A proposal to address this dilemma could include a rigorous verification/triage carried out offshore, say in a transit camp, under joint EC/UNHCR auspices (at a pre-agreed proximate location, for example, Tunisia), where fairly distributed acceptance quotas would be committed in advance by EU member countries and an incentive return package provided to those not meeting pre-agreed refugee criteria based on international covenants.

This requires a real commitment from across the EU. And it will not sit well with anti-immigration voices in the UK and elsewhere.

But the real issue is Africa.

The longer term issue is that the same politicians who, in the name of the taxpayer, demand nit-picking levels of austerity at home are failing to challenge the corrupt leaders whose citizens are fleeing. Aid worsens corruption, and corruption in turn deters investment. Taxpayers should not tolerate this either.

Africans need not be fleeing the continent. The UK and other rich western countries have given Africa £500bn in development aid for 50 years, but the continent has become poorer, hungrier and angrier. This is because of four main reasons.

First, the UK’s current aid budget of 0.7% of GDP is no match for population explosion, currently standing at 1 billion and rising by more than 3% every year.

Second, corrupt politicians are siphoning much of the aid money and spending what is left on weapons to harass their people and stay in power indefinitely.

Third, and most important, just as the UK’s unemployment benefit is not meant to make anyone rich but to keep them just alive; foreign aid too is not designed to make African countries rich, just to fill the gap.

Finally, foreign aid has created unhealthy dependency cultures across Africa, where governments expect the west to give them budget support while western NGOs provide basic services – education, health, provision of clean water and food.

The UK and its partners urgently need to assist Africa to trade itself out of poverty. As a priority, efforts should include the removal of some of the crippling trade barriers that stifle African agricultural exports. At the same time, the UK should lead the rest of the world in helping Africa to reduce population to a sustainable level. Without these measures, African immigrants will keep fleeing from the vicious cycle of poverty, wars, famine and diseases.

In the UK and in Europe there must be a rethink of our attitude towards migrants. It is about more than economics; we must recognise that we have a basic moral duty to care about the plight of those trying to escape from violence, persecution and war. Those who have died upon the sea are owed that.

What’s Wrong with Thailand’s New Constitution

21 April 2015 Bloomberg View

The draft constitution presented in Thailand last week grants “everything that every citizen ever felt the need to fight for,” according to the junta-appointed committee that wrote it. By diminishing the role of those same citizens in government, however, it’s far more likely to prolong the country’s political stalemate.

Changes introduced in the new constitution are supposed to protect Thailand from the kind of graft and populist excess blamed on its recent elected leadership. Critics accuse former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of presiding over a corrupt administration after his election in 2001, saying he used handouts to his base in the poor but populous north and northeast to maintain his hold on power. (Thaksin, who was convicted of corruption by a military-appointed court after his ouster in 2006, has protested his innocence.) Since he fled into exile, Thailand has been paralyzed by a series of coups, short-lived governments (including one led by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck), and street clashes between Thaksin supporters and resentful urban and middle-class Thais.

To break this deadlock, the new constitution would weaken the clout of elected politicians. A proportional voting system would encourage smaller parties and coalition governments in the lower house of parliament, while the upper house would be filled with a mix of candidates nominated by committee or selected by professional groups, including one dominated by former military figures. Under certain circumstances, the prime minister could be appointed from outside parliament. Watchdog agencies perceived to be tied to the establishment would get new powers. Thus, unelected elites could mind the store, rather than ordinary voters — thought to be too susceptible to populist blandishments.

Such a system would hark back to Thailand’s failed past. Earlier constitutions also featured an appointed prime minister and senate, along with a weak lower house. But the old system produced 25 coalition governments from 1979 until Thaksin’s election in 2001. And because many ordinary Thais, voting that year under a liberalized constitution, saw their circumstances improve under Thaksin, even the poor have grown used to the idea that their votes matter. They can hardly be expected to again trust their fates to a clique of “wise men” in Bangkok.

Nor is there any reason to believe that constitutional tweaks can eliminate the main vices attributed to Thaksinite administrations. The junta has amply demonstrated that unelected governments can resort to populist measures as easily as any other, having disbursed billions in subsidies to mollify rice farmers loyal to the previous government. Weak coalition governments would face even more pressure to buy support.

Rampant corruption, meanwhile, did not begin with Thaksin’s arrival and won’t end with his family’s exit from the political scene. Cutting back on graft requires greater transparency, as well as watchdogs that are truly independent. There’s little evidence the new constitution will promote either.

Worse, returning power to the hands of a murky elite will only undercut the government’s legitimacy and the confidence of long-term investors. The economy has both immediate problems (household debt above 85 percent of gross domestic product, flatlining exports) and structural challenges (it needs to move beyond the low-end manufacturing that has powered its economy since the 1980s). This will take more than increased spending on infrastructure, as the junta has pledged. It calls for retraining workers and overhauling the education system. Above all, investors need to see a stable system of governance with clear checks and balances, and participation from parties across the spectrum. Otherwise there’s little guarantee that the next political crisis won’t derail reform.

The solution isn’t to disempower politicians, as if they were some malign species. Only voters can give government legitimacy. And the only true, sustainable check on any future Thai government is the threat of being voted out of power. The way for opposition parties to defeat Thaksin’s popular electoral machine is to do the hard work of developing a national agenda and appeal. Any constitution that tries to get around basic democracy will only ensure that another one needs to be written in a few years.

Pilot Workload at Emirates Under Question

Airline’s policies pose a further challenge to the carrier

9 April 2015 Wall Street Journal – Rory Jones

Emirates Airline faces questions from regulators and staff over whether it overworks pilots, adding to challenges for the carrier that include criticism of its expansion abroad and discontent among cabin-crew staff.

According to current and former pilots, Emirates, the world’s largest airline by international traffic, underreports time on duty to the aviation regulator in the United Arab Emirates, meaning pilots at times exceed daily-duty limits that exist to protect their health and the safety of flights.

Ismail Al Balooshi, director of aviation safety affairs at the General Civil Aviation Authority, the U.A.E.’s airline regulator, said in an interview he would now investigate allegations that state-owned Emirates isn’t fully reporting pilot duty hours. He added, though, the airline is monitored closely and there have been no significant complaints about safety, including via an anonymous system for reporting such issues.

Concern over pilot health has elevated in the wake of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525. The plane’s co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had a history of depression and appears to have deliberately crashed the jet into the French Alps, killing himself and 149 others onboard. There is no indication work stress contributed to Mr. Lubitz’s actions.

Emirates said in a statement responding to the allegations it never compromises on safety and fully complies with its regulator’s mandates. The state-owned carrier, which wouldn’t make executives available for this article, also said it had a “proactive” fatigue-management procedure.

Emirates acknowledged discontent among its more than 3,700 pilots, though it called those speaking out an unhappy “vocal minority.” It urged them to engage with management, adding it had set up an open forum for pilots to provide input.

Pilots and airlines in Europe and the U.S. often spar over duty hours as airline managements seek greater flexibility in scheduling cockpit crew.

At Emirates, mandatory preflight briefings occur before the airline reports the pilot as officially on-duty, according to current and former pilots who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. That policy can sometimes lead to duty times being exceeded on daily return flights to destinations in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Europe, allowing Emirates to operate those flights without extra staff, these pilots said.

Pilots also say Emirates routinely requires them to work into a period known as “discretion,” a procedure that exceeds normal work hours. Regulators allow such leeway in unforeseen circumstances such as delays and only if the pilot deems duty time extension safe.

Emirates said discretion is a tool available for use on the day of operations if the captain “assesses that it is safe to do so and provided it is in accordance with state-approved regulations.”

Mr. Al Balooshi said reporting requirements for duty time should be “black and white” and begin when a pilot is expected to report for work and finish when his or her last flight taxies into the gate. Emirates said it abides by state-approved flight-time limitations.

Emirates is deemed one of the safest carriers in the world, with a seven-star rating by Airlineratings.com, a website that tracks and rates safety. It has achieved that strong track record amid rapid growth. The airline has increased the annual number of passengers it carries fourfold over the past decade, to 44.5 million last year.

The pilot discord comes as Emirates already is battling criticism on multiple fronts. U.S. and European rivals accuse the Persian Gulf carrier of relying on market-distorting state subsidies to fuel its growth, a charge Emirates denies.

At home, cabin-crew employees have voiced concerns over work conditions, prompting the airline to hold a series of meetings with staff. It also suspended a review process for cabin-crew staff that drew particular ire.

For years, U.S. and European pilots flocked to Dubai to seek cockpit jobs at rapidly expanding Emirates as other airlines restructured and retrenched. Emirates offers generous expatriate packages that include accommodation, education and medical benefits. It flies some of the most modern jets, including Boeing 777s and Airbus A380 superjumbos that are coveted assignments.

But some pilots now are returning home to the U.S. and Europe as they view overall benefits have diminished, while workload and their cost of living have increased, according to pilots and recruitment firms. Emirates said it was seeking to recruit around 500 pilots in the current financial year and that it saw “little change” in turnover rates.

Emirates said its pilot pay is “among the highest and most competitive in the industry.” Over the past seven years, salaries increased every year except in 2009, when Dubai was hit hard during the global financial crisis, the carrier said. Accommodation allowances have risen even when housing costs in Dubai have fallen, it said.

A dozen current and former Emirates pilots and U.A.E. aviation officials, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said pilots are flying more hours than before and are subjected to onerous procedures to report sickness or fatigue, discouraging them from doing so. Safety regulators rely heavily on pilot self-reporting of medical conditions that might not be detected by annual medical screenings.

Adel Al Redha, chief operations officer at Emirates, who oversees pilots and other staff, said in an email the airline was setting up an internal portal for any operations personnel to air grievances with management. Given the “expansion of the airline and the growth of employees,” Mr. Al Redha said in the email dated April 2, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, “it is vital we maintain close communication links.”

New (old) caddy for Thongchai Jaidee

5 April 2015

Thongchai Jaidee and caddie Clifford Picking have parted ways after a highly successful spell, his handlers said yesterday. The 45-year-old Thai and the English caddie started their partnership just two weeks before Thongchai won the 2012 Wales Open, his fifth European Tour win and first on European soil.

Picking also carried Thongchai’s bag when he won his sixth European Tour title at the Nordea Masters in Sweden last June.

“They have decided to part company on mutual consent,” one of Thongchai’s handlers from IMG said. During their partnership, Thongchai shot to a career best 33rd in the world ranking last year.

Sadly this just sounds like spin. Thongchai’s handlers found Cliff a couple of years ago when they realised that Thongcha really needed a caddy who new his way around teh European Tour and the different courses. That they won two tournaments in the toughest conditions was a testament to the success of that partnership.

I like Cliff; sensible down-to-earth guy. But Thailand is also a long way from Cliff’s UK home and the travel must have taken its toll.

Their last tournament was the WGC-Cadillac Championship where Thongchai finished 69th in the 73-player field.

Thongchai, currently 43rd in the world, has reunited with his friend Phosom Meephosom who worked with him early in his career.

The three-time Asian Tour No.1 is now in his final preparation for his fourth appearance next week’s Masters.

He qualified for Augusta thanks to his top-50 place in the world ranking at the end of last year. In his three attempts at the year’s first major, the Lop Buri native made the cut only once when he finished tied for 37th last year.

Thunderbirds are Go – again

5 April 2015

Thunderbirds aired in the UK between 1964 and 1966 and repeated in 1992 and 2002. There were 32 episodes over two series, broadcast in 66 countries.

The show sparked a merchandising frenzy, with more than 3,000 Thunderbirds products sold, so much so that December 1966 was labelled Thunderbirds Christmas.

And now it is back – as a CGI remake of the adventures of the Tracy family whose mission is to save the world through their secret organisation International Rescue.

The original was fun; we were convinced that a 2ft-model of Thunderbird 2 was in fact 90-metres long; that small fires were towering infernos; and that modest ripples were crashing waves. Camera tricks, incredibly fine modeling, and real world physics ensured that – quite often – these effects were incredibly convincing.

Thunderbirds are Go is different from the original, it has to be.No chain-smoking and hard drinking puppets.

The reviews of the new show are very mixed; critics seem to approve that the show true to the spirit of the original.

Which sort of misses the point; the show is aimed at 6 to 11 year old children; not to 50 something children.

Sadly the five boys all look a bit One Direction.

The Dubai money-making machine

From oil sales and Salik, to traffic fines and the Dubai Mall: The incredible facts and figures behind Dubai’s multibillion-dirham economy.

By Peter Iantorno for EdgarOnline

5th Apri 2015

At the start of 2015, the government of Dubai unveiled a public expenditure plan that will see the emirate spend a jaw-dropping AED 41 billion – the biggest public budget since before the global financial crisis.

At a time when oil prices are tumbling around the world and policymakers across the GCC are being forced to reconsider their financial forecasts, Dubai is able to splash out on an ambitious budget that will create an estimated 2,530 jobs and operate with a predicted surplus of AED 3.6 billion.

How is this possible, we hear you ask? Let us introduce you to Dubai: the money-making machine.

The first point to note about the 2015 budget is that oil accounts for only 4 per cent of it. Reflecting the global downturn in oil prices, the government has decreased its dependence on oil from 9 per cent last year, leaving the unpredictable oil market with comparatively little importance in the grand scheme of things.

The slack left by the reduction in oil revenue is more than picked up by a massive increase in charges for government services, which are set to account for 74 per cent of the total budget – a giant leap of 22 per cent from last year’s plan.

Also important is the big increase in tax revenue – thankfully not on us residents, but in the form of customs and excise charges and the corporation tax imposed on foreign banks, which will increase by 12 per cent this year, comprising 21 per cent of the total budget.

With more than 2.35 million permanent residents in Dubai and some 1,413,150 vehicles registered in the emirate (according to Roads and Transport Authority figures, as of December 2014), traffic congestion is an issue that has dogged the city for a long time, as the number of cars increases by at least 100,000 every year.

While heavy traffic might make it difficult for us to get to work in a morning, one thing it does mean is money in the bank for the Dubai government. Why? Well, aside from vehicle insurance and registration fees for every single car, there’s also the small matter of Salik: toll gates that earn millions every day.

The are six Salik toll gates in Dubai (Garhoud, Al Maktoum Bridge, Safa, Barsha, Airport Tunnel and Mamzar), which cost AED 4 each time a driver goes through them. There used to be a maximum daily charge of AED 24 per day, but this was removed in 2013, leaving drivers who pass through multiple gates in the same day liable to pay unlimited fees.

Let’s say that half of all the registered vehicles in Dubai pass through one Salik gate per day (an extremely modest estimate). The total amounts to AED 2,826,300. Even using our pigeon maths skills, it’s safe to say there’s a lot of money coming in every day from Salik alone.

And for those who don’t play by the rules, the windfall is even greater. According to statistics revealed by Dubai’s Traffic Police earlier this month, a single Emirati driver has so far amassed an incredible AED 280,000 in fines from a total of 477 traffic offences. And he’s just the start, as the three worst violators have committed a whopping 1,022 offences between them, clocking up massive fines.

Although there are no official statistics, the fines must run into to the tens of millions, and, of course, none of these reckless drivers have been banned, so the stream of fine money keeps on rolling in.

While Salik and traffic fines are massive earners, the real big bucks – and massive figures – come from the jewell in Dubai’s crown: The Dubai Mall. Last year an astounding 80 million visitors (almost 220,000 per day) visited the mall, making it the world’s most popular tourist destination by far.

Making up around 5 per cent of the emirate’s GDP, the world’s biggest mall dwarfed other tourist attractions around the globe, with New York’s Times Square picking up less than half the amount of visitors (39.2 million) during the same period.

And there’s no sign of let up, as The Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue is set to undergo a massive expansion, with another 1 million square feet, including a further 150 high-end brands set to be added to the salubrious area.

With the Dubai economy now going from strength to strength after recovering from a massive setback in 2008, it seems that not even the tumbling oil prices have the power to slow it down.

Will you just open the Door

4 April 2015

A Dutch pilot wrote an article for a flight magazine voicing fears about returning to a locked cockpit door weeks before a Germanwings flight crashed into the French Alps.

Jan Cocheret, a Boeing 777 pilot for the Emirates airline, expressed concerns about leaving a flight deck to go to the toilet and returning to find his co-pilot had locked him out in a piece for the Dutch flying magazine Piloot en Vliegtuig (Pilot and Plane).

The article is here.

The article was published two months before the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz apparently locked his captain out of the Airbus A320’s cockpit when he went to the toilet and descended the plane, killing all 150 passengers and crew on board.

In his piece, ‘Will you just open the door’, Mr Cocheret warned the security measures introduced after the 9/11 terror attack to prevent hijackers taking control of a plane could also be used against the aircraft’s captain, The Telegraph reports.

The Daily Telegraph article is here.

He discussed the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and one theory that one pilot took over when the other left the cockpit.

He wrote: “I seriously sometimes wonder who’s sitting next to me in the cockpit. How can I be sure that I can trust him? Perhaps something terrible has just happened in his life and he’s unable to overcome it.

“There indeed does exist a way to get back into the cockpit, but if the person inside disables this option (the security code to get in), one could do nothing but sit with the passengers and wait and see what happens.”

Mr Cocheret referenced his piece after the crash, writing on his Facebook page: “Unfortunately, this terrible scenario has become reality.”

He said he chose to publish the article in a specialist magazine because he was concerned it was a “sensitive” subject that he did not consider suitable for the general public’s consumption.

German prosecutors said Lubitz, 27, was treated for suicidal tendencies several years before obtaining his pilot’s licence. He also provided his flight training school with medical documents demonstrating he had suffered a “severe depressive episode” before resuming his training in 2009.

Germanwings said Lubitz had a valid medical certificate at the time of the crash. Investigators searching Lubitz’s home found torn-up medical notes showing he should have been on sick-leave on the day of the air disaster. Germanwings confirmed it had not received the sick notes.

Etihad regional gets investment approval

3 April 2015

The Etihad Airways 33% stake in regional air carrier Darwin Airline has received approval from the swiss regulator after a sixteen month review.

In anticipation of the deal, in which Etihad bought a 33.3% share in Darwin Airline in November 2013, Darwin rebranded itself Etihad Regional.

However, clearance from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation was needed because under European Union law, which also applies to Switzerland in this case, European airlines must be controlled by European companies. To get around those limitations, Etihad had been buying up stakes in local carriers such as Air Berlin, Alitalia and Darwin.

Under the decision reached on Thursday, Darwin has also been permitted to carry out flights in Europe on behalf of Alitalia and Air Berlin, creating a business model where it is less dependent on Etihad than originally proposed. Yet Etihad basically controls the purse strings of each of these carriers.

“This partnership will provide us the financial stability for the long-term growth of our company, dispelling any market uncertainty,” Darwin Chief Executive Maurizio Merlo said in a statement.

Darwin Airline, which is based in Lugano, canton Ticino, was founded in 2003. It was renamed Etihad Regional after the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways bought up a third of its shares. Etihad also owns 30% of Air Berlin and runs cooperative flights with Air Serbia and Aer Lingus.

James Hogan, president and CEO of Etihad, said the investment was in line with the growing trend of consolidation in the airline industry, to ensure the continuation of viable, reliable and stable air services, and to maximize flight connectivity.

Hogan expressed disappointment that some opportunities for both carriers had been diminished or lost because of the length of the regulatory review process.

“Because of the time taken to approve this partnership, and intense competition during this period, Etihad Regional has been forced to reduce or withdraw services on a number of routes, which were launched on the expectation that they would be supported by traffic flowing between the Etihad Airways global network and the Etihad Regional network in Europe,” Hogan said.

In October of last year, Swiss International Air Lines invested CHF5 billion into expanding its routes to compete with airlines such as Etihad, which it saw as infringing on its home turf.

Etihad Regional axed its Lugano-Zurich, Zurich-Linz, Geneva-Toulouse and Geneva-Nice routes from the start of February. There will also be redundancies as a result of Darwin’s restructuring.

Easyjet also has a substantial operation based in Geneva.

VAT in the UAE is probably inevitable

2 April 2015

A value-added tax (VAT) is being proposed across the Gulf states at between 3 percent and 5 percent.

A date of implementation and the rate have not been finalised.

The framework is due to be submitted at a meeting of the GCC Ministers of Finance and Economy in May.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council member states have been mulling the introduction of VAT since 2007 to broaden their revenue base, with negotiations happening jointly to avoid any one nation losing out in competition with others in the region.

The recent sharp reduction in oil prices is thought to have lent a further push to introduce the levy, given that most Gulf states are expected to record budget deficits in the coming fiscal year and are reluctant to pare back spending on infrastructure and social spending aimed at developing their economies and improving the lives of citizens.

While the tax would ensure a reliable inflow of government revenues its impact could be damaging.

Dubai businessman Mishal Kanoo and deputy chairman of Kanoo Group, argues that there are already “a hell of a lot of indirect taxes” and a VAT was unnecessary and would hurt the wrong people.

“The ones that would be hurt by taxes would be what you consider middle class, but the super-rich, a person worth a few billion… how is that going to hurt them?” Kanoo told Arabian Business.

He also does not advocate the introduction of an income-scaled tax system.

The trouble with VAT is that it will hit the majority expat population hardest – which is a problem in a country where you can never get the benefits of citizenship or status. You are here only until you are no longer required and then you head home.

But it is inevitable! If they are sensible there will be a raft of exemptions from VAT based around basic foodstuffs, education, welfare services etc.

Martial Law Plus

2 April 2015

English translation by iLaw of the new order replacing martial law in Thailand. As you can see it is effectively martial law in all but name.

With a hat-tip to AFP’s Jerome Taylor @jerometaylor on twitter.


Order Number 3/2558 (3/2015) of the Head of the NCPO on Maintaining Public Order and National Security.

As the lifting of martial law throughout the Kingdom has now been adopted, it is appropriate to install measures to deal with actions intended to undermine or destroy peace and national security, violate notifications or orders of the NCPO, or to commit offenses under the laws on firearms, ammunition, explosives, fireworks and artificial weapons which threaten the peace and security of the nation.

Therefore, the head of the NCPO sees it as necessary to prevent and suppress such actions swiftly and effectively so as not to affect law-abiding citizens and the well-being of the general public.

By virtue of Section 44 of the Interim Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand of 2014, the Head of the NCPO with the approval of the NCPO hereby issues the following order:

Article 1. This order shall come into force from the date of its publication in the Government Gazette.

Article 2. A “Peace Keeping Officer” refers to a military officer with the rank of Lieutenant, or Midshipman or Pilot Officer or above, appointed by the Head of the NCPO to act in accordance with this order.
An “Assistant Peace Keeping Officer” refers to a military officer of lower rank than a Lieutenant, or Midshipman or Pilot Officer appointed by the Head of the NCPO to act according to this order.

Article 3. Peacekeeping Officers shall act swiftly to prevent and suppress acts which constitute the following offences:
(1) offenses against the King, the Queen, the Heir Apparent and the Regent under Sections 107 to 112 of the Penal Code.
(2) offenses against the security of the state under Sections 113 to 118 of the Penal Code.
(3) offenses under the laws on firearms, ammunition, explosives, fireworks and artificial weapons, only in respect of firearms, ammunition and explosives used in warfare.
(4) violations of announcements or orders of the NCPO or of the Head of the NCPO.

Article 4. In acting according to Article 3, Peacekeeping Officers have the following powers:
(1) To order any person to report to peacekeeping authorities, or to come to give a deposition, or hand over any document or evidence relating to the commission of an offense under Article 3.
(2) To arrest any person discovered committing an offense under Article 3, and to hand over that person to an investigating officer for further proceedings.
(3) To assist or support investigating officers in their duties or take part directly in investigations of offences under Article 3, in which case Peacekeeping Officers shall be deemed to be investigating officers as defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
(4) To enter any residence or any place to carry out searches of the premises, including searches of persons or of vehicles, when there is sufficient reason to suspect that a person who has commited an offence under Article 3 is hiding on the premises, or has kept property or evidence relating to such an offence on the premises, and where a delay while applying for the issuance of a search warrant might risk the abscondance of the suspect or the removal or destruction of said property or evidence.
(5) To seize or freeze any assets discovered under (4).
(6) To carry out any other act as assigned by the National Council for Peace and Order.

Article 5. In circumstances where it is necessary to swiftly remedy a situation which threatens national security or public order, or to prevent the situation from getting worse, Peacekeeping Officers are empowered to issue orders prohibiting the propagation of any item of news or the sale or distribution of any book or publication or material likely to cause public alarm or which contains false information likely to cause public misunderstanding to the detriment of national security or public order.
When issuing such orders, Peacekeeping Officers may attach conditions or time frames for compliance to their orders.
In order to accomplish results in accordance with the first paragraph, the Chief of the NCPO may set conditions or guidelines regarding the issuance of such orders.

Article 6. For the purposes stipulated in Article 3, when there is some evidence to suspect that an individual may have committed an offense under Article 3, Peacekeeping Officers have the authority to summon that individual to report to them for questioning or to give a deposition, and while the questioning is uncompleted the individual may be detained for not more than seven days. However, detention must be carried out on premises other than police stations, detention facilities, or prisons, and the detainee is not to be treated as an accused person.
When there are sufficient grounds to bring charges against such an individual, either Peacekeeping Officers in their capacity as administrative officials or police officers are to proceed according to the law.

Article 7. Assistant Peacekeeping Officers are to perform duties as ordered or assigned to them by Peacekeeping Officers.

Article 8. In carrying out their duties under this order, Peacekeeping Officers and Assistant Peacekeeping Officers are to be considered as authorised officers under the Penal Code, and as administrative officers or police officers under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Article 9. Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with orders issued by a Peacekeeping Officer or Assistant Peacekeeping Officer under Article 4 (1) or Article 5 or Article 6 shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht, or both.

Article 10. Any person who resists or obstructs a Peacekeeping Officer or an Assistant Peacekeeping Officer in the performance of his duties under this order shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht, or both.

Article 11. In the case of an individual detained under Article 6, paragraph one for offenses under Article 3 (4), Peacekeeping Officers may allow the release of that individual, with or without conditions.
Conditions for release under the first paragraph may be for the purpose of securing compliance with Section 39 (2) to (5) of the Criminal Code, for prohibiting the individual concerned from leaving the Kingdom except with the permission of the Head of the NCPO or an authorized representative, or for prohibiting the individual from carrying out financial transactions.
Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with conditions of release shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht, or both.

Article 12. Political gatherings of five or more persons shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both, unless permission has been granted by the Head of the NCPO. or an authorized representative.
Anyone who commits an offence under paragraph one who voluntarily agrees to receive corrective training from Peacekeeping Officers for a period not exceeding seven days may be released with or without the conditions stipulated in Article 11 paragraph 2 at the discretion of Peacekeeping Officers. The case will then be considered closed according to Section 37 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as amended by the Criminal Code Amendment Act (No. 16), 1986.
Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with conditions of release shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both.

Article 13. Actions under this order are not subject to the laws on administrative procedures and the Law on the Establishment of the Administrative Court and the Administrative Procedures Code.

Article 14. Peacekeeping Officers and Assistant Peacekeeping Officers who act in good faith in accordance with this order, without bias or undue severity shall be protected according to Article 17 of the Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations 2005, without prejudice to the rights of individuals to claim compensation from the government in accordance with the laws governing liability of officers.

Issued on April 1 of the year 2558 (2015).
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order.

Say hello to the AIIB

31 March 2015

The new Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has already become something of a test of diplomatic clout between China and the United States. The development bank is seen as a challenger to existing institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank.

Unable to increase its voice in the current institutions—China commands just 6.47% of the vote in the Asian Development Bank, 5.17% in the World Bank, and 3.81% in the International Monetary Fund—China is now building its own alternative. The bank is intended to make up for the gap in funding the region needs—about $800 billion a year in infrastructure investment, according to the Asian Development Bank. It is expected to launch later this year.

So far over 40 countries have joined AIIB. The deadline for a founding member expired yesterday. The United States and only one of its main allies, Japan, remain absent from that list. The US and other critics question whether the Beijing-led institution will uphold international standards of transparency, debt sustainability, and environmental and social protections, or just turn into an arm of Chinese foreign policy. Last week, Japan’s finance minister said, “Unless [China] clarifies these matters, which are not clear at all, Japan remains cautious.”

But as more countries join the bank, the more likely AIIB will have to follow international standards, observers have noted, and the less likely China will be able to use a multilateral institution to wield influence in the region.

Even Taiwan has sought to join the proposed development bank despite historical animosity and a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the island and China.

In a statement released late on Monday, Taiwan presidential office spokesman Charles Chen said joining the AIIB will help Taiwan in its efforts at regional economic integration and raise the possibility of joining other multinational bodies.

It was not immediately known whether Beijing would accept Taiwan’s application to join the AIIB.

The bank is seen as a significant setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and balance China’s growing financial clout and assertiveness. Which presumably was the intention!

Many of Washington’s allies, including Australia, South Korea, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, have announced they would join the bank.

Operation Decisive Storm and the Expanding Counter-Revolution

31 March 2015 Middle East Research and Information Project – by John M. Willis

I found this to be a really useful explanation of the GCC bombing of targets in Yemen. It is a battle against political and social change; with deep financing and international acquiescence. For the people of Yemen it must be devestating.

On the night of March 25 one hundred Saudi warplanes bombed strategic targets inside Yemen under the control of the Houthi rebels. A number of countries—the other Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) members minus Oman, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Pakistan—joined the effort either directly or in support capacities. Although the Houthis have been in control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the central government since September 2014, it was the flight of president ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to Aden and the subsequent Houthi attack on the southern city that constituted the breaking point for Saudi Arabia and the GCC. Thus began what Riyadh has dubbed Operation Decisive Storm (‘Asifat al-Hazm), a military assault that has already caused considerable destruction in Sanaa and elsewhere, and incurred dozens of casualties both military and civilian.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubair described the air campaign as defending the legitimate Yemeni government led by Hadi, who replaced president ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih as part of GCC-brokered political arrangement in 2011. Hadi’s government, Jubair contended, “has agreed to a process that is supported by the international community, that is enshrined in several United Nations Security Council resolutions that calls for all Yemeni parties to take a certain path that would lead them from where they were to a new state with a new constitution and elections and checks and balances and so forth.” He referred to the Houthis as “spoilers” of this process, who refused to “become legitimate players in Yemeni politics,” and who will not be allowed to take over the country. Jubair’s remarks on the legitimacy of the government were remarkable for several reasons, not least of which was the absence of any mention of the Yemeni people.

The Houthis’ refusal to negotiate a political settlement in Riyadh has indeed disrupted the kingdom’s attempt to revive the original and problematic GCC initiative and National Dialogue Conference that was to resolve Yemen’s deep political divisions. As Stacey Philbrick Yadav and Sheila Carapico have argued, “given the GCC monarchies’ interest in stability in the most restive quarter of the Arabian Peninsula, the agreement contained a number of provisions to undermine populist demands for a democratic transition.” It is no wonder then that the Houthis saw little possibility of addressing their concerns in a Saudi-sponsored conference that seemed to have as its goal the restoration of the political status quo.

Yet Operation Decisive Storm is not merely about Yemen’s internal politics. It is emblematic of a broader political transformation—one that has both historical parallels and is strikingly new. For many, the assault raises the specter of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, executed by a coalition of Sunni states and Iran’s Shi‘i proxies. Indeed, the forces aligned against the Houthis are Sunni-majority countries. As many analysts have noted, however, sectarianism obfuscates the political context of the Yemeni crisis rather than clarifying it. For those with longer historical memories, this military campaign suggests a previous proxy war between Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia, when both countries intervened in the Yemeni civil war (1962-1967) to support the Yemeni republicans, on the one hand, and the Yemeni monarchy, on the other. In that conflict, the Saudis backed the deposed Zaydi imam while Egyptian troops fought on the side of the “free officers.” Although the republican officers prevailed, Egypt suffered a kind of defeat, and Saudi Arabia ultimately extended its hegemony over what was then North Yemen.

A closer historical analogy might be the Iranian, Jordanian and British intervention in Oman against the rebellion of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO) in the 1960s and 1970s. In that case an alliance of conservative monarchies joined forces to support the Omani sultanate against popular forces that had threatened to spread into the greater Persian Gulf. While the Houthis in no way resemble the leftist PFLO in ideology or revolutionary practice, the forces gathered against them have a great deal in common. Namely, they are all part of a counter-revolutionary front that has expanded beyond the GCC to include other authoritarian regimes. While not all these countries share the Saudi and GCC paranoia regarding Iran, they do, to varying degrees, fear the spread of ISIS or popular democratic forces. To these regimes, the Houthis represent one of many forces that threaten to undermine the regional order.

The coalition also shares a reliance on Saudi and GCC political and economic support. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have supported the regime of ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi politically and financially since he formalized power in 2014. Collectively, they provided Egypt with an estimated $23 billion in grants, loans, petroleum products and investment in 2014 and a pledge for $12 billion more in 2015. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, met with King Salman in October 2014 as part of a general rapprochement between the two countries that led to an unspecified aid package from Saudi Arabia. Both Jordan and Morocco were briefly in discussions to enter the GCC as a part a post-Arab uprising defense strategy intended to ensure dynastic stability in the face of increasing domestic opposition. Although they were ultimately not invited to join, the two monarchies still enjoy the financial support of GCC countries and share a similar commitment to combating the influence of ISIS.

The role of Pakistan is slightly more complex. Beyond the long history of military ties between the two countries, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif owes his political life to Saudi intervention. The kingdom gave him a comfortable exile in 2000 and again in 2007 (including financing his establishment of a steel mill in Jidda). Since Sharif’s election in 2013, the Saudis have continued their support, most recently in April 2014 with an injection of $1.5 billion in loans into the Pakistani economy to shore up its foreign reserves. In return, the Pakistani military has actively supported the Gulf monarchies: The recruitment of Pakistani mercenaries for Bahrain’s security forces during the height of opposition demonstrations in 2011 was organized by private security firms with close ties to the Pakistani military.

Despite Saudi or even US assertions to the contrary, Operation Decisive Storm has nothing to do with supporting the legitimacy of a political process in Yemen. Its goal is instead to maintain the continuity of authoritarian governance in the region by actively repressing the forces that threaten to undo the status quo. That this coalition has indiscriminately lumped together ISIS, Iran and the popular democratic movements of the Arab uprisings of 2011 should indicate both its broader strategic goals and, equally, the dangers to positive political and social change it represents.

Germanwings crash accident investigation

31 March 2015 Flight Global

Airline pilot organisations have expressed their shock at the Germanwings Airbus A320 crash on 24 March – but also their distress that international standards for investigation and the release of information are not being followed.

The European Cockpit Association (ECA) says it accepts that the information released suggests the co-pilot probably acted deliberately to destroy the aircraft, but maintains that the failure to respect agreed accident investigation protocols is damaging the process of investigation itself and endangering aviation safety.

In France, a judicial prosecutor always works in parallel with air accident investigators to assess evidence at a crash site. The expert accident investigator – in this case the French BEA – is the junior partner in the early stages of the task, and must await the judiciary’s assessment and securing of the evidence. Lacking aviation expertise, the prosecutor’s sole task is to determine who is to blame and whether criminal prosecution is appropriate, while the BEA’s sole task is to determine the cause of the crash so as to prevent a recurrence.

However, this mixing of roles is contrary to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s standards and recommended practices for accident investigation set down in Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention.

In the Germanwings case, as soon as the A320’s cockpit voice recorder had been found and successfully downloaded, the prosecutor announced to the world’s media – on camera, and in the presence of the BEA team – that the co-pilot appeared to have deliberately flown the aircraft into the ground. In effect prosecutor was saying that he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution against the aircraft’s co-pilot.

But following the prosecutor’s announcement, the ECA had this to say two days after the accident: “European pilots are deeply disturbed by the latest turn in the investigation of the tragic Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crash. The reports of investigators and French prosecutors that this could be a result of a deliberate attempt to destroy the aircraft are shocking and our thoughts are with the victims and their relatives.”

The Association then voiced its concerns about the investigative process: “We stress the need for unbiased, independent investigation into the factors leading to this accident. The leaking of the CVR data is a serious breach of fundamental and globally-accepted international accident investigation rules… Given the level of pressure this leak has undoubtedly created, the investigation team faces a serious distraction. The required lead of safety investigators appears to have been displaced by prosecutorial considerations. This is highly prejudicial, and an impediment to making aviation safer with lessons from the tragedy.”

If the BEA alone had been left to release the information, it would have provided established facts only – and not made any conclusions public at this early stage, however obvious they might appear to be.

The A320 took off from Barcelona, Spain on 24 March at 10:00 local time for flight 4U9525 to Düsseldorf, Germany, carrying 144 passengers and six crew. At about the time the aircraft reached its 38,000ft cruise level the captain left the flight deck, and very soon after that the aircraft began a continuous but controlled descent to impact. On his return to the flight deck the captain was unable to regain access to the cockpit.

Marseille air traffic control called the Germanwings flight several times, but the co-pilot did not reply to any of the calls. The chief investigator says the co-pilot manually initiated an autopilot-controlled descent, and his breathing could be heard throughout. The rate of descent – about 4,000ft/min – would not be unusual for an expedited descent on a normal flight.

The ECA states: “We understand that many facts point to one particular theory for the cause of this event. Yet, many questions still remain unanswered at this stage. A key priority for accident investigators – and prosecutors – must be to gather and analyse thoroughly all data, including the technical information about the flight.”

An example of the ECA’s concerns would be fact of the co-pilot’s breathing. While the prosecutor implied that the breathing indicated the co-pilot was alive during the descent, pilots have commented that some form of incapacitation cannot be ruled out on that information alone.

As a result of the official prosecutorial assumption of the co-pilot’s deliberate destructive action, the ECA argues that the understandable worldwide media reaction has placed pressure on the BEA – and this has the potential to influence the investigation.

Thoughts: Like it or not French law applies and the prosecutor did his job. What happened became quickly clear. Why it happened is still unknown. But even in deciding what happened the prosecutor ended a great deal of speculation and t doing so provided some reassurance to passengers that this was not a fault with the Airbus airliner.

UAE carriers tighten cockpit security after Germanwings crash

31 March 2015 The Gulf News

Airlines in the UAE have joined a global move to ramp up security on commercial flights and tighten cockpit policies after a Germanwings plane was deliberately crashed into the French Alps.

An Etihad Airways spokesperson said that they have reviewed their operating procedures and will now ensure that two crew members will be present at the cockpit on all its planes at all times.

Prosecutors in France believe that the co-pilot of Germanwings, Andreas Lubitz, had locked himself alone in the flight deck when the captain went for a short break and caused the plane to crash into the mountain in southern France.

“We have reviewed our operating procedures and will continue to do so in the light of the disturbing and tragic news from France,” an Etihad spokesperson said in a statement sent to Gulf News.

“With immediate effect, Etihad Airways will ensure there are always two crew members in the flight deck at all times on all flights. Safety is and always will be Etihad Airways’ number one priority.”

The Germanwings tragedy that killed all 150 passengers on board had raised questions about cockpit security. Audio recordings retrieved from the ill-fated plane suggest that one of the pilots went outside the flight deck moments before the crash and had trouble getting back in.

Several other airlines later announced they are ensuring that two pilots man the cockpit at all times. Emirates Airlines has also joined the move, saying they have just implemented a new operating policy “where there would always be two crew members in the cockpit.”

“This is effective immediately. We are in the process of communicating this new policy to our flight and cabin crew teams.”

See my comments below; this may appease the media and nervous flyers but it is pretty useless.

Two people in the cockpit solves little

29 March 2015

Calling for a two-person requirement in the cockpit is certainly not the answer to the GermanWings tragedy. At best it is the reaction of governing bodies and airlines who want to appear to be “doing something” and to appease the media.

A longer term response will need to address mental health issues in an industry in which such issues are stigmatised.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, since September 11, 2001, only two incidents of commercial flight suicide have been recorded. Considering that more than 2.5 billion people flew between 2010 and 2014, that is a lottery-winning low chance of encountering a similar tragedy.

The ability for a mentally ill person to destroy themselves and a multitude of innocent people is not reserved for the cockpit or indeed for an airliner. I do not hear the same demand for two drivers on every bus.

The new rules require cabin crew to “guard” the one pilot while the other goes to the bathroom or just for a stretch of his or her legs for a few minutes.

But there are no new rules for controlled rest. What happens 00000when one pilot checks out for up to 40min (officially) replete with eye shades, ear plugs and blanket. The other pilot is left to operate as a single crew and to do whatever he likes. One swing with a crash axe (there is one in the cockpit) while he sleeps and…well it does not bear thinking about and I am sure it will never happen. But it is why the new rules are pointless.

The avenues for dealing with mental health issues such as major depressive disorder are limited. Airlines are addressing fatigue but mental health still carries unjustified outcome anxiety. A pilot raising his or her hand about mental health may mistakenly fear they will never be allowed to fly again. The ability to fly is a livelihood; failing a medical is essentially becoming unemployable.

There needs to be a way for pilots to take time out when they need to recover from stress, trauma, exhaustion, health concerns so that they may recover and fly again. We need to remove the fear of acknowledging the issues that can be faced by anyone in any profession.

It is certain that we will all encounter mental health issues in our lives, if not directly then through someone close to us. It’s about time to confront and manage mental health in the aviation industry.

Fatique issues and stress over working conditions all contribute to health concerns – this Guardian article is thoughtful although the issue that it raise extend beyond the LCCs and are very relevant to the ME airlines with long flying hours and extensive night flying: Alps tragedy exposes relentless pressures faced by commercial pilots.

No fatalities in Air Canada crash at Halifax

29 March 2015

Dear Air Canada – I think we need to call this a crash not an incident. The plane did not leave the runway after landing. It came down well short of the runway. Weather conditions were miserable; winds were strong. The good news is that everyone got out with just some minor injuries.

Which only goes to show – like the Asiana 777 at SFO – just how strong modern airliners are.

The Air Canada Airbus A320-200, registration C-FTJP performing flight AC-624 on Mar 28th from Toronto,ON to Halifax,NS (Canada) with 133 passengers and 5 crew, was on approach to Halifax’s runway 05 at about 00:07L (03:07Z) when the aircraft touched down short of and below the runway threshold, clipped a powerline and approach light about 250 meters short of the runway, climbed the embankment up to the runway level and came to a stop past the threshold of the runway near taxiway B about 300 meters down the runway.

The aircraft was evacuated. 23 people received injuries and were taken to a hospital, the aircraft sustained substantial damage (collapsed gear, engine separated, wing damage, horizontal stabilizer damage).

Full marks to the cabin crew here.

The aircraft had been holding west of Halifax prior to commencing the approach waiting for weather (visibility) to improve.

The airline confirmed the aircraft suffered a runway excursion on landing in Halifax, 23 passengers and crew were taken to hospitals, 18 of them could be discharged from hospital in the meantime. In reality the airplane barely made a runway incursion.

The Canadian TSB announced they have dispatched a team of investigators to Halifax and opened an investigation into the accident.

GermanWings – final moments

19 March 2015

German tabloid newspaper Bild am Sonntag has released what is claims is a summary of the timeline from downed Germanwings Flight 9525.

The timeline is based on the data recorded on one of the “black boxes” recovered from the wreckage. A transcript of the cockpit voice recording has not been released, and Bild cites sources close to the investigation for the information. The timeline provides one of the most detailed descriptions of the plane’s final moments:

According to Bild:

• There are 1.5 hours of sound on the voice recorder.

• The flight took off 20 minutes late, and Capt. Patrick Sondenheimer apologizes for the delay and says they will try and make up for it in the air.

• Even before takeoff, the captain tells co-pilot Andreas Lubitz that he didn’t manage to go to the bathroom in Barcelona. Lubitz tells him he can go anytime.

• The plane reaches its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:27 am. local time.

• The captain asks the co-pilot to prepare the landing.

• After the check, Lubitz repeats to the captain, “You can go now.” There is the sound of a seat moving backward. After that, the captain is heard saying, “You can take over.”

• At 10:29 a.m., air traffic radar detects that the plane is beginning to descend.

• At 10:32 a.m., air traffic controllers contact the plane and receive no answer. Almost at the same time an alarm goes off in the cockpit saying “sink rate.”

• Shortly after there is a loud bang on the door. The pilot can be heard screaming, “For God’s sake, open the door.” Passengers can be heard screaming in the background.

• At 10:35 a.m., loud metallic bangs can be heard as though someone is trying to knock down the door. The plane is at about 23,000 feet.

• Ninety seconds later, another alarm goes off: “Terrain — pull up!” The plane is at about 16,400 feet. The captain is heard screaming, “Open the damn door.”

• At 10:38 a.m., the plane is descending toward the French Alps, and the co-pilot can be heard breathing. The plane is at about 13,100 feet.

• At 10:40 a.m., it sounds like the plane’s right wing scrapes a mountaintop, then screams can be heard one more time. Those are the last sounds on the voice recorder.


Is an Arabian war inevitable?

27 March 2015

Up front disclaimer – I cannot answer the question but it is a genuine and real concern pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Iran and its allies.

Last Thursday Saudi Arabia and allies launched air strikes in Yemen to stop the advance of the Iran-allied Houthi militia towards President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s southern refuge of Aden.

It is called Operation Decisive Storm. No objectives have been stated. Though Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, said that the military campaign against Shia Houthi militias in Yemen, which has been led by Saudi Arabia, aimed to “preserve Yemen’s unity and the peace of its territories”.

Saudi Ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir said a coalition of more than 10 countries had joined the military campaign to try to protect Hadi’s government. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar signed a joint statement with Saudi Arabia announcing the military action, leaving Oman as the only member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) not to join the coalition.

Egypt, Jordan and Sudan said their forces were involved in the operation. Pakistan said it was considering a request from Saudi Arabia to send ground forces.

Morocco declared its support for the Saudi-led operation, but did not confirm or deny earlier reports by Gulf broadcaster al-Arabiya that it had sent fighter jets.

The White House said the United States would give logistical and intelligence support. Turkey also declared its support.

Iran demanded an immediate halt to military action, while China expressed concern and called for dialogue. For once the Chinese appear to be the vice of reason.

Saudi Arabia leads the coalition and has committed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units.

Barack Obama has said the US shares a “collective goal” with its regional ally to see stability in Yemen, where the Houthis have been tightening their grip since the new year.

He also offered support to King Salman, as it emerged that US military forces had rescued two Saudi pilots forced to eject from their fighter jet in the region on Thursday.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has said negotiations were the only way to prevent a long-term conflict in Yemen.

Yemen is of course strategically important as its coastline controls access to the Suez Canal.

But the fighting in Yemen appears to be more of a Sunni against Shiite proxy war. The intervention is an attempt to curb Iran’s growing influence in the Arab world, as well as to save the presidency of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Both will be difficult tasks.

While other leaders at the summit made veiled references to Tehran, Yemen’s President Hadi – who just days ago was in hiding – was blunt. He described the Shia Houthi rebels who are trying to topple him as “Iranian stooges”.

Yemen is now the backdrop for a larger conflict which already looks like a proxy war between Sunni states – especially regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia – and Iran. What’s unclear is how far Arab leaders are prepared to take this conflict, or how much it may escalate.

And in the middle of Iran and Yemen – and with its own large Iranian population – sits Dubai. It may be that there are no good guys. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, foreign military intervention only makes matters worse

Thai airlines are a “significant safety concern

27 March 2015

Anyone who follows this site will know that the lack of regulations and controls over the endless stream of poorly financed Thai airlines has long been a concern.

Now, Thailand’s airlines are facing bans on new international flights and more inspections after the International Civil Aviation Organization flagged significant concerns about the country’s aviation safety.

The designation of Thailand as a “significant safety concern” has not been announced publicly by the aviation group, a United Nations agency, but governments were informed last week.

The ICAO raised questions about Thailand’s air-safety procedures. “The audit revealed some safety concerns, primarily relating to air operator certification procedures,” Anthony Philbin, a spokesman for Montreal-based ICAO, said Friday by e-mail, while declining to give details. The assessment was conducted in Thailand from Jan. 19 to Jan. 30, Philbin said.

Thai officials shared their plan for corrective action with ICAO on March 2, and the agency is working with Thai aviation regulators on resolving the issues, Philbin said.

Japan has blocked new flights from Thailand since the decision, and South Korea is considering similar measures, officials said. Existing flights are not affected.

Among the airlines forced to cancel flights are the low-cost carriers Thai AirAsia X, NokScoot and Asia Atlantic Airline, Thailand’s Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement. The flagship carrier, Thai Airways, is also affected.

Jarumporn Chotikasathein, the president of Thai Airways, said the airline would have to cancel “about five” charter flights planned for the April holiday schedule. He said his airline and other Thai carriers would also undergo increased inspections by regulators from other countries as a result of the group’s designation.

The Thai ministry did not give details of the group’s concerns or recommendations, but said it planned to inform countries about the status of Thailand’s aviation safety and “the solutions to fix the faults that were found in the inspection as soon as possible.”

As usual the government response appears to be that the foreigners do not understand us.

Thailand was audited by the ICAO group in January; its previous assessment was in 2005. Industry executives said the department was able to meet only 21 out of 100 requirements imposed by the ICAO.

The department has been struggling to meet ICAO compliance under a 90-day grace period as the global aviation community has begun to cast a suspicious eye towards Thailand, another executive said.

An ICAO downgrade could lead US and EU aviation safety authorities to review Thailand’s aviation safety standards,

Audits assess a country’s ability to ensure aviation safety in areas like staff licensing and training, airworthiness, and accident investigation, according to a report by Watson Farley & Williams, an international law firm with a commercial transportation practice.

The Civil Aviation Bureau of Japan informed its Thai counterpart by email this week that it would not allow new charter flights operated by carriers registered in Thailand to fly to Japanese airports. Noriaki Umezawa, a spokesman for the bureau, said the temporary measure was issued because of concerns that the airlines may not meet international safety standards.

The Japanese ban covers any “change of aviation services,” the Thai civil aviation department said, and also bars airlines from changing the type of aircraft normally used on scheduled routes.

South Korea said it was considering a similar ban. Mr. Kwak, the transportation official, said it was highly unlikely that new flights would be approved. NokScoot had been planning to start flights to Seoul’s main airport, Incheon, in May. Mr. Kwak said flights currently operating between Thailand and South Korea would not be affected.

The downing of GermanWings 4U 9525

26 March 2015

Flight 4U 9525 crashed on Tuesday near Digne-les-Bains in the French Alps. The airliner had just reached its cruising altitude and was over the Alps flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. There was no mayday call from the flight.

It was the New York Times that broke the big story last night. Suggesting that one pilot had left the cockpit and been locked out and kept out.

The story escalated quickly and sensationally today.

The Marseille prosecutor was blunt. The only conclusion he could reach was that the co-pilot of the Germanwings flight, Andreas Lubitz, had crashed the plane deliberately.

“The co-pilot is alone at the controls,” prosecutor Brice Robin said, drawing on information gathered from the black box recorder. “He voluntarily refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and voluntarily began the descent of the plane.”

Mr Robin said the 28-year-old had a “deliberate desire to destroy this plane. He … refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and deliberately began the descent of the plane.”

There were 149 other passengers and crew on board that airplane. What Mr Lubitz did was not unthinkable; it is however extraordinarily rare.

The captain had left the cockpit – presumably for a bathroom break. The captain knocked on the door but there was no answer, he hit the door stronger, and no answer. There was never an answer.

The chief executive of Lufthansa has said there were no indications of abnormal behaviour in Lubitz and that there is “no system in the world” that could have predicted and prevented his actions.

“He was 100 percent fit to fly. There was no particular thing to note or to watch out for (in him).”

“We choose our staff very strictly. the choice of staff is very strict – we not only take into account their technical knowledge but also the pyschological aspect of our staff.”

He said the psychological tests carried out on their pilots by a specialised German training centre were regarded as among the best in the world.

This may come back to haunt him as it has become clear that the co-pilot was undergoing medical treatment and in fact had a sick note for the day of the fated flight that he tore up.

There have been complaints mainly from within the industry that the prosecutor released too much information without confirming the facts This is nonsense. 150 people died. There is a criminal investigation and the public want answers. Not just what happened but why it happened.

The prosecutor was clear – to the point of bluntness – about what had happened – and the evidence from the CVR must be strong for him to be that conclusive. It would be career-wrecking for him (and many others) if he were wrong.

The prosecutor’s findings were not media-hyped. What he told the press was itself sensational…in the worst way possible.

It was also telling that the airline has accepted that the crash resulted from the action of one of their pilots.

Some of the resulting speculation – mental illness, religion etc has been inappropriate and excessive. And that is the problem. The prosecutor was clear what happened. But everyone is now asking ‘why’ and that will take much longer to answer or may never be answered.

In all the comparisons and speculation most people have forgotten the almost identical crash of Mozambique Airlines – TM470 – 29 November 2013. The industry should have been taking action after that incident and did not. The appearance is that since it happened in Africa it gets ignored but if it happens to a blue-chip European airline the industry responds.

Bangkok’s Big Brother is watching you

25 March 2015 The Guardian

General Prayuth Chan-ocha is determined to make Thailand a happy place. He’s doing this by throttling civil liberties. Abigail Haworth charts the surreal rise of his despotic regime

Bangkok’s Lumpini Park is walking distance from the Italian bistro where Dream works as the head waitress. This afternoon, a cool Saturday in mid- January, the 32-year-old Thai has taken a couple of hours off to attend a festival in the park. The grass has only just grown back. It was scrubby and nicotine-hued for months last year after thousands of occupying protesters erected tents, noodle stalls and pop-up hair salons during efforts to topple the elected government. A military coup last May granted the protesters’ wishes. Now the junta is using the park to stage a five-day extravaganza, Discover Thainess 2015, to showcase how united and happy the country is under martial law.

The area has been transformed into a mini-Thailand. Different sections represent the five main regions, each crammed with colourful stalls selling local food and crafts. There are stages for cultural performances, and backdrops of idyllic beaches and lush rice paddies for photo sessions. (One stall sells nothing but selfie sticks.) In Dream’s home region, the North, people who are dressed as cheery peasants pose beside plastic water buffaloes. In the Central region, home to the capital, dancers in glittering costumes perform a graceful routine from the royal court.

Dream moved to Bangkok seven years ago from Nan province, close to the border with Laos. She earned her English nickname because she was always so aspirational. “My parents grew rice and vegetables for a living. There was too much poverty, too little food,” she says. “I did well at school and found work in hotels when I was 18. I wanted a better life.” Dressed for the festival in a smart black skirt and a high-necked blouse adorned with a cameo necklace, she is enjoying the lavish spectacle. She is also bemused. “It’s like 20 or 30 years ago. It’s not like Thailand today.”

Harking back to an idealised past, when irksome democracy was containable and everyone knew their place, is one of the festival’s aims. The event is ostensibly to promote tourism, but it’s also thudding domestic propaganda. The theme is based on the “12 core values of the Thai people” that coup leader and now prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha compiled after seizing power. The values include: “Love for the nation, religion and the monarchy”; “Preserving Thai customs and traditions” and “Discipline and respect for elders and the rule of law”. All Thai school-children are required to recite the 12 sayings daily and, to prove that feudal values can also be fun, the junta has issued downloadable stickers for Thai messaging apps.

There’s no greater way of showing contempt for the rule of law than by removing an elected government, however flawed, at gunpoint. But such inconsistencies don’t trouble Prayuth. The general justified the coup – Thailand’s 12th since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 – by claiming it was necessary to quash instability resulting from the country’s deep political divide. Thailand has been in a state of almost perpetual tumult for a decade. On one side are those who believe in civil society and democratic principles, including the devoted supporters of exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his populist party machine. On the other side are those loyal to the old ruling elite, an embedded alliance of the Thai monarchy, military and upper classes whose traditional power is being usurped.

After the coup, Prayuth suspended the constitution and restricted all basic rights. He vowed to “return happiness to the people” and create a system of “Thai-style democracy” through political reforms of the junta’s own design.

Earlier in the week, during his speech to launch the festival, Prayuth made it clear how high the stakes were for every citizen. Disagreeing with his path, he declared, was incompatible with the very nature of “Thainess”. “Whoever causes chaos to Thailand or disrupts peace and order, they should not be recognised as Thais, because Thais do not destroy each other,” the general told an audience of dignitaries gathered outside a shopping mall. “The charm of the Thai people is that they look lovely even when they do nothing, because they have smiles,” he added, without bothering to demonstrate his point.

Prayuth insists his only goal is national reconciliation. But Dream says his regime will make many Thais feel more excluded. As a transgender woman, she is a case in point. “Of course I am worried in case the army clamps down on people like me,” she tells me later in the evening, back at the homely Italian restaurant where she works. “I don’t fit into their ideal.” What upsets her most is that the junta’s pronouncements render her opinions worthless. “I’m proud of myself. I’ve worked hard to improve my life and I believe in equality and freedom for poor people. But now we are being told that if we don’t accept the army’s decisions, we are criminals.”

When General Prayuth does smile, which is not very often, he looks like a man suffering from heartburn. He probably is. The 61-year-old junta boss has repeatedly complained that he didn’t ask for the job of reforming democracy and that he is selflessly doing it for the nation. “My whole family cried tears when I told them I was going to do this task,” he told the Thai media, shortly before his hand-picked interim parliament appointed him as prime minister. A career soldier known as a hardline royalist, Prayuth had been due to retire last year and spend his salad days playing golf.

Still, his belief that his methods are the only righteous solution to Thailand’s problems is not in doubt. Neither is his faith in his own authority. As the number of coups indicates, the Thai army’s sanctioned role as political troubleshooter is long-standing. Prayuth looks painfully exasperated when Thai reporters gently query his reform plans. He told one journalist to “visit the ear doctor” and threw a banana skin at the head of a cameraman. Earlier this month he warned a press gathering that he could do much worse. “I was asked by a reporter: ‘What are the results of the government’s work?’ I almost punched the person who questioned me in the face.”

The warning was redundant. Since taking over, the junta, whose official name is the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has made full use of martial law to prosecute opponents, ban political activity and censor the media. More than 1,000 people, including academics, political bloggers, activists and politicians, have been detained or sent for “attitude adjustment” at military installations. There have been some allegations of torture. Prosecutions under the country’s strict lèse majesté laws, which protect the monarchy from insult, have also risen sharply. In its annual report in January, Human Rights Watch said military rule had sent human rights in Thailand into “a freefall”.

During the previous coup in 2006, the mood was comparatively less repressive. The move ousted Thaksin Shinawatra from office while he was on an overseas trip. The army rallied peacefully to return life to normal. Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who came to power in 2001, built a huge support base among mostly rural voters by being the first Thai leader to introduce policies that genuinely improved their lives, such as universal health care and microcredit loans. But he also grew increasingly despotic and corrupt as his power expanded, turning the urban elite’s distaste for him into outright loathing. Thaksin and his allies became synonymous with bad government. Tolerance for democracy was the main casualty.

This coup felt different from the start. In the years since 2006, grassroots supporters of Thaksin and his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who became prime minister in his absence in 2011, had become much more organised. Seeing their gains under threat, they clashed with the army and pro-establishment demonstrators numerous times to safeguard their votes. Thaksin-backed parties have won every election for the past 14 years. By last year, with Thailand’s long-ruling 87-year-old monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej in fragile health, and no viable opposition in parliament, the Bangkok powers were running out of time. They needed to crush support for the Shinawatra clan once and for all, and rig the constitution to keep elected leaders in check in future.

The generals’ failure to grasp that the Shinawatras are only a symbol of much wider demands for social change and equality is the central flaw in their plan. Anti-coup demonstrators were quick to latch on to dystopian symbolism in protest. Some people took part in “reading protests” by standing in public reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games films became a mark of resistance. The army was equally quick to crack down, hauling offenders off for “attitude adjustment” or worse. Life began to outdo art. After martial law outlawed political gatherings of more than five people, students at one university organised “sandwich parties” – sit-ins in the guise of innocently eating lunch. The idea spread. The army detained a number of people for “eating sandwiches with political intent” and warned the public this was now a criminal act. Recently, the junta arrested a man for staging a solo “walking protest” in Bangkok.

If such state-sponsored farce in one of southeast Asia’s most modern capitals suggests there is panic beneath the junta’s brute power, its desperate need for its actions to be seen in a positive light confirms it. It has toned down its “Happiness” campaign from the early days, when it held street parties to promote reconciliation, offering free haircuts, dancing by women in sexy camouflage gear and hot meals. Prayuth even penned a ballad, “Return Happiness to Thailand”, that was broadcast so often it became a tyranny of its own. (Musical ability seems to run in the family. Prayuth’s 20-something twin daughters enjoyed brief success a few years ago as a punk-lite pop duo called BADZ – a biographical detail now hard to find.)

But still, the doublethink pronouncements are relentless. “If people want to do [opinion] polls, they are free to do so,” said Prayuth at Government House last month. “But if the polls oppose the NCPO, that is not allowed,” he added. A few days later an “independent” poll was published giving the regime a public approval rating of more than 80%. Earlier the junta had outlined its position on media censorship in a similar fashion. After summoning editors from Thailand’s mainstream media to a meeting, the appointee in charge of media monitoring, Lt Gen Suchai Pongput, explained: “We do not limit media freedom, but freedom must be within limits.”

Cherry, a 27-year-old reporter and talk-show panellist at one of Bangkok’s independent TV stations, has discovered firsthand what this means in practical terms. I meet her at her office off a sprawling ringroad, but she has little work to do there, as she has been suspended by her bosses. “I posted a status update on my Facebook page, a kind of inspirational message for women, saying that we should speak out for what we believe even if we have to pay a high price,” says Cherry, who, to protect her TV company, can’t give her full Thai name. “Underneath I posted a photo of myself at a big anti-coup demonstration.” Her bosses saw the update and said they were taking her off air, at least for a while. “They told me they couldn’t trust me any more. They were worried I might criticise the military on live TV.”

The Thai media has never been entirely free; self-censorship about the monarchy and the Buddhist monkhood is practised across the board. But in those cases the parameters of what’s allowable are clearly defined (that is, nothing negative at all, although criticism of religion has begun to creep in). Cherry says the junta’s “request” that media outlets determine their own limits when reporting on the military government is more damaging. “When they don’t draw the line for you, when you have to draw it yourself, it results in paranoia and over-caution. It’s the worst kind of silencing.”

It’s also the most insidiously effective because it forces colleagues to police each other. The army closed down Cherry’s TV station for a month after the coup for “inappropriate reporting” and later gave it a yellow card, referee-style, to warn that it would be closed down again if it went too far. “Everyone at work is a nervous wreck.”

Cherry is the only daughter of upper middle-class parents who live in Bangkok’s suburbs and run a successful bakery business. Her parents are liberal, she says, but most of her relatives are firmly on the side of the coup. Cherry was studying global politics at the London School of Economics in 2006 when mass demonstrations first started up in her homeland. “That’s when I became really engaged. I believe passionately in democracy and civil society.” It’s a tragedy for Thailand, she says, that the nation is being excluded from debate about its future. “I talk politics with some of my friends, and they have very bright minds that are being wasted.”

So, of course, is her own. Two weeks after I meet her, her wrap-on-the-knuckles suspension is lifted. She’s allowed to return to her talk show as a panellist on the strict condition that she doesn’t say anything that the junta would regard as “un-Thai”.

Children’s Day in Thailand, in January, is the only day of the year that Government House opens to the public. Balloons are strung up around the lawns and youngsters can have guided tours of the seat of power. This year that turned out to be literal: it was all about the chair. Prayuth had recently received a new Baroque-style chair for his office. A leaflet was handed out about the making of the chair by master craftsmen. As the highlight of the day, children were allowed to sit in it to have their photos taken beside a cardboard cutout of its proud owner. He even wore a painless smile. Despite Prayuth’s protestations to the contrary, it seemed like he plans to sit in his new chair for quite a long time.

The general keeps changing his mind about the timetable for elections, saying that they could be any time between next year and three years away. One sharp-eyed Thai blogger noted that the ID cards of members of the National Legislative Assembly, the interim parliament appointed by Prayuth, are valid until 2020. Two recent small explosions of grenades and pipe bombs in Bangkok’s city centre, blamed on agitators, prompted Prayuth to confirm this month that martial law would stay in place until there was “total stability”. Meanwhile the troubled Thai economy is stagnating further and the country’s image abroad is looking shakier by the day.

Prayuth’s chair is not his only eccentricity. Apparently unschooled in public relations or political spin, he makes off-the-cuff remarks that provide endless light relief for Thailand’s political bloggers and tweeters. During one economic forum, he suggested that rubber farmers should “sell their product on Mars” to reduce their stockpile of rubber. He also told the poor to alleviate household debt “by stopping shopping”. In one of his weekly televised addresses, he said all residents of Bangkok should solve the problem of overgrowing water hyacinths in the river “by picking 10 or 20 plants each until they go extinct”. He signed off another broadcast with the words: “Love me just a little, but love me for a long time…” from a famous Thai song. Responding to suggestions by pro-coup pundits that he should be more statesman-like, he was adamant: “I won’t change my personality, because I am a person with multiple personalities.”

As with other interesting despots, none of this affects his ability to wield absolute power. But it does pose a problem for those who are in the business of poking fun at him to make serious political points. As Janya “Rosie” Wongsurawat says, it’s hard to produce satire when your targets are already beyond it in real life. Janya, 38, is the chief writer and director of Shallow News in Depth, an online TV show hosted by her younger brother Winyu “John” Wongsurawat and her husband, Nattapong Tiendee. The family trio founded the humorous news show six years ago to try to get more young people engaged in the country’s problems. Their audience has risen dramatically since the start of military rule. Around 250,000 viewers now watch each episode of their cleverly subversive take on post-coup antics.

The team covers complex political issues, wrapping them up in enough slapstick comedy, funny graphics and sarcasm to keep it all light on the surface. “In Thailand people don’t take clowns seriously, so we haven’t had any visits from the army yet,” says Janya, sitting in the studio they’ve recently created in the lobby of a disused Bangkok office building.

“Sarcasm is a useful weapon because it’s not common in Thai humour. People are not sure how to take it.” In the show Winyu, 29, is a cartoonish James Bond figure, while Nattapong, 39, is a shaman in a white robe and beads. Against the neon-hued set, the two sit at a desk and use props like fly swatters and rubber ducks to ham it up while they deliver serious verbal blows to Prayuth’s regime.

“This week our nation remains in a runaway state of absurdity and shows no sign of slowing down,” announces Winyu in one recent episode. The pair then name and shame many of the 220 members of the junta-appointed interim parliament who have no experience or qualifications for their posts except their ties to the army. “They are volunteering their incompetence in the service of our nation. Now, let’s move on to our absurd news…”

In another show they expose how the legislature is making surreptitious changes to the Minerals Act. Newly added clauses remove state liability for accidents and do away with environmental impact assessments. “So if a mine explodes, it’s the fault of the miners. Of course it is.” They also discuss how martial law is being used to quash environmental protests by local people about certain government projects and rush the projects through. “During the rule of phony governments like this, it’s a prime time for pushing crazy, unjust laws that would probably be much harder to pass during a legitimate government,” says Nattapong, brandishing his plastic fly swatter.

Winyu says it’s nerve-wracking every time they upload a new episode. “Some coup supporters are outraged. They tweet the link directly to the army with comments like: ‘You’re really letting them get away with this?’” But he says doing the show is also a form of therapy – for him, and hopefully for the viewers as well: “It’s a release, an outlet for the frustration of what’s happening.” Janya and Winyu are the offspring of a Thai politics professor, and their American mother is also an academic.

“We do have serious discussions about politics with the family, but we also have to joke about it as well,” says Janya, “otherwise it’s very lonely to be in this situation. The propaganda just keeps coming and coming. It’s really bad for your psyche.”

A month to THE DAY after the Discover Thainess festival in Lumpini Park, another event takes place not far across town. It’s Valentine’s Day, a muggy Saturday afternoon, and a group calling itself Resistant Citizen is staging a rare anti-coup protest in the middle of the Siam Square shopping district. Advertising the event in advance, the group of activists, students, academics and lawyers made no attempt to hide its illegal plans. The aim of coming out in public was to “break the atmosphere of fear created by military rule,” they announced.

Thirty protesters arrive in tuk-tuks bearing homemade ballot boxes, bunches of red roses and copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four. They plan to stage a mock election to mark the one-year anniversary of the general election in February 2014 called by the then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which was invalidated after the conservative opposition sabotaged the polls and in some cases attacked voters. “My beloved, stolen election” reads one sign. “One heart, one election” reads another. An air of inevitability hangs over the proceedings. Around 150 police officers have already put up barricades and formed a cordon around the plaza.

“This is a day of love for all Thais,” says one activist wearing a T-shirt with the slogan NO COUP and clutching a red rose. “We’ve come here to let it be known that we want freedom and social justice for everyone in our country.”

Standing back surveying the unfolding protest, police colonel Jarut Sarutthayaporn, the policeman in charge, says that holding demonstrations like this is counterproductive. The protesters are “interrupting the programme” and delaying democracy because elections will not be held until all dissent is eradicated.

Nevertheless, everyone lets the peaceful event play out. The activists put up the ballot boxes; the police dismantle them. People try to give speeches; the police stop those, too. Scuffles break out and four protesters are arrested, bundled off to the station in the same tuk-tuks they arrived in. (The four were later charged with holding an illegal political gathering and are currently being tried in a military court.)

When the event is over and everyone has gone home, shoppers continue to stream along the concrete pedestrian walkways that snake above the plaza. Beneath them at street level, the ground is strewn with trampled red roses.

Emirates Airline is fighting an unusual headwind: labor trouble

20 March 2015 The Wall Street Journal

In the U.S. and Europe, the Dubai-owned carrier, the world’s largest international airline by traffic, is fighting accusations by rivals that it benefits from unfair government subsidies. Back home in Dubai, however, it is engaged in a rare tussle with its own cabin-crew staff.

According to current and former staff, cabin-crew employees have been complaining internally about a host of issues, including accusations the airline is asking crew to work more hours and shortening layovers between connecting flights. In response, Emirates is hosting a series of unprecedented meetings where staff can air grievances directly to senior management. It also recently suspended a performance-evaluation system of cabin staff—conducted after each flight—that employees complained was too critical.

Labor trouble is a frequent headache for global carriers, where strikes and other job action can lead to disrupted service. But in Dubai, a semiautonomous monarchy that is part of the United Arab Emirates, strikes and unions are banned. Emirates has long been a demanding employer, especially for cabin-crew personnel—requiring rigorous training, including in etiquette and grooming.

But cabin-crew staff also enjoy benefits not typical at many other airlines, including free accommodation and transportation to and from work. That has all helped keep a lid on open labor strife among its roughly 20,000 cabin-crew employees—at least until now.

The dissent comes as the airline is growing rapidly and trying to recruit aggressively to fill its cabins. Emirates carried 44.5 million passengers in its last financial year, and forecasts 70 million passengers by 2020.

It plans to hire 5,000 more cabin staff this year, to accommodate growth and attrition. That fast clip is straining current staff, according to some employees.

Flight attendants say they are having to work more shifts, with shorter layovers. First-class attendants, who typically work their way up to their postings in premium cabins, are being asked to work in economy to make up for shortages there, according to these employees. Many cabin-crew staff had some annual leave allocation deferred last year, they said.

Emirates said in a statement that it hasn’t shortened layover times, and any changes to staff routines are exceptions that comply with safety rules. Staff have to work in other cabins at times, the carrier said. Emirates didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment about deferred leave.

The company also declined to comment generally about cabin-crew complaints, and it declined to make executives available to comment for this article. Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the General Civil Aviation Authority, the U.A.E.’s airline regulator, said issues about airline labor conditions are a matter to be sorted out between staff and management.

The new gripe sessions announced earlier this year are one way Emirates is trying to manage the complaints. In an email in January to staff announcing the meeting, Terry Daly, Emirates’ senior vice president of service delivery, wrote he was “aware that there are a number of subjects that are causing concern at the moment.” He called the meetings “an opportunity to talk about these directly with me,” according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Emirates has held three sessions so far. The first meeting, held last month at Emirates’ Dubai headquarters, dragged on for double the scheduled two hours, according to three attendees. In a statement, Emirates said the forums last month were just one of many ways employees could communicate with management. “We have always encouraged open dialogue,” the carrier said.

Emirates Chief Executive Tim Clark has recently weighed in. Late last year, he started to send a quarterly “update” email to employees, soliciting feedback from staff. But he also warned about gossip mongering: “I’m astonished by the range of colorful stories that sometimes do the rounds in our company,” he wrote in October. His advice, he continued, according to a copy of the email reviewed by the Journal, is to “keep well away from naysayers and gossips and focus instead on our ambition to be one of the most loved lifestyle brands.”

Qatar World Cup Final is December 18 – 2022!

20 March 2015

The World Cup final in Qatar in 2022 will be held on December 18, after FIFA finally confirmed a winter tournament.

Last month, FIFA’s Executive Committee announced a recommendation for the global showpiece to be held in the months of November and December.

That decision was taken in a bid to avoid the soaring temperatures in Qatar in the traditional months of June and July, which can often climb above 40 degrees centigrade.

Thursday’s announcement, confirmed by Walter De Gregorio, FIFA director of communications is final confirmation that the tournament will be held in the last two months of the year.

Those dates will cause havoc among many domestic leagues, with European heavyweights such as the Premier League and La Liga already voicing strong opposition to such a suggestion.

The date for the final is a national holiday in Qatar, while it has been agreed in principle by FIFA’s ExCo that the finals will be played over a shorter timespan – possibly 28 days.

Sweden v Saudi Arabia – hint: no one wins

19 March 2015

In January, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, tweeted criticism of Saudi Arabia’s flogging of human rights activist blogger Raif Badawi, calling it a “cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression”.

She has also criticized the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, where they cannot drive cars and need permission from a male guardian for many decisions.

Her steadfast joint pursuit of human rights and feminism has antagonised the Arab world and started a debate on the issue of morality in nuanced national foreign policy.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Stockholm earlier this month, after Sweden ended a long-standing defense cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia.

The agreement was cancelled due to Sweden’s expressed concerns over human rights issues. A few days earlier, Riyadh canceled a speech due to be given to the League of Arab States (in Cairo) by Ms. Wallstrom.

Cards on the table – this is a debate worth having. And the diplomatic tip-toeing around issues of human rights is embarrassing. We will not criticise another nation’s human rights record in order that we can preserve military contracts and sales is simply not a sustainable moral position.

The situation has escalated. The GCC nations have leapt to the support of their dominant partner. The Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers condemned the “false accusations” by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Ms Margot Wallström.

A statement issued at the end of the 134th meeting of the GCC ministers in the Saudi capital Riyadh said that the Swedish false accusations were an unacceptable interference in the domestic affairs of Saudi Arabia that is inconsistent with all international conventions and norms.

Which really does show who calls the shots in the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is hard to see how the statements were offensive unless you are highly sensitive.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia considers the offensive remarks made by Sweden’s Foreign Minister as a blatant interference in its domestic affairs,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

“These remarks are inconsistent with international conventions and diplomatic norms and do not conform to the friendly relations between the countries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia therefore recalls its ambassador to the Kingdom of Sweden,” the official said.

The GCC, established in 1981, comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recalled the UAE ambassador to Sweden in support of Saudi Arabia.

In addition to recalling the ambassador, Sultan Rashid Al Kaitoob, the ministry also summoned the Swedish ambassador to the UAE, Jan Thesleff, and delivered a formal memorandum of protest over Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom’s remarks, state news agency WAM reported.

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, highlighted the “condemnation by the UAE of strong statements made by the Foreign Minister of Sweden to the Swedish Parliament against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its judicial system”.

Dr Gargash stressed that these statements violate the principle of sovereignty upon which normal relations between countries are based. He added that such remarks are deemed interference in internal affairs as they do not respect the religious and cultural particularities of states and communities.

Saudi Arabia is now refusing to issue any business visas to Swedes, according to Stockholm’s Foreign Ministry.

Sweden’s minority government came to power last October and has suggested that it has a role as what some politicians call a “moral great power”, rather than prioritising security and an export-led economy. There are business groups in Sweden that do not support this position.

Ms Wallström, who is a former EU commissioner, has promised a “feminist” foreign policy. “I won’t back down over my statements on women’s rights, democracy and that one shouldn’t flog bloggers,” she said, referring to the sentencing of Mr Badawi to 1,000 lashes. “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

But Sweden is the world’s 12th biggest arms exporter. Its economy depends on brand exports from Ikea to H&M. With Russia also testing Sweden’s air and submarine defences, this may be the wrong time to put human rights front and centre in foreign policy, Ms Wallström’s critics say.

The Saudi defence accord had helped Swedish firms to make 4.8bn krone (£383m) between 2011 and 2014. Signed in 2005, it had been due for renewal in two months.
“Much of what Sweden exports of high technology requires the various types of long-term commitments,” Ms Wallström’s centre-right predecessor Carl Bildt wrote in his blog. “There is a real risk … [the cancellation] will hit Swedish interests, not only in Saudi Arabia itself.” But the Saudi row may not have been Ms Wallström’s doing, and has brought accusations of diplomatic miscalculations by the squabbling coalition government.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who worked for nearly two decades as a welder in the defence industry, was in favour of a revised Saudi deal. But this was vetoed by left-leaning Social Democrats and the Green Party, the junior partner that keeps him in power.

With signs that Mr Löfven would give in to the Greens, more than 30 business executives published an open letter saying breaking the deal would “jeopardise Sweden’s reputation as a trade partner”. They included fashion retailer H&M’s main owner Stefan Persson and Investor chairman Jacob Wallenberg. “Social Democrats have traditionally been pragmatic in foreign policy,” said Anna Wieslander, deputy director of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. “So this may be about government personalities and coalition wrangling.”

It was not the only controversy. Ms Wallström’s first diplomatic move was to recognise the state of Palestine, prompting Israel to recall its ambassador and angering the United States. Recognising Palestine was of course a move that should have won her friends in the Arab world.

So this is as much about defining Sweden’s international role as it is about GCC sensitivities. But as least the debate is being held and that has to be progress.

The price of Netanyahu’s victory

18 March 2015 – The Financial Times – Gideon Rachman

Even some of his bitter enemies would now have to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu is a giant on the Israeli political scene. The results of Israel’s elections mean that the Likud leader is now likely to serve a record fourth term as prime minister, making him his country’s longest-serving prime minister ever. More than ever, “Bibi” is now confirmed as the international face of Israel.

Mr Netanyahu’s victory was won at a price. In a last-minute drive to shore up right-wing support, the Israeli prime minister came out explicitly against the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that he had endorsed in the past. That will further annoy Washington. During the course of the campaign, Mr Netanyahu gave a controversial speech to the US Congress denouncing the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran. As a result, he will begin his next term in office with his standing in the US and Europe in worse shape than ever. That could help the Palestinians in their efforts to take on Israel at the UN and the International Criminal Court.

Yet it is possible to make too much of these campaign-driven shifts in Mr Netanyahu’s position. They have merely made explicit two things that should have been apparent already. First, whatever he says, Bibi has no real interest in a two-state solution. The rhetorical concession to two-states was always contradicted by the Israeli government’s actions in steadily expanding settlements on occupied Palestinian land. And while Mr Netanyahu claimed to believe in a two-state solution, Likud – the party he leads – is dominated by people who have already ruled out a Palestinian state. The second point that the election campaign has confirmed is that Mr Netanyahu and President Obama get on very badly. But we knew that already.

Similarly, while another Likud-led government makes the achievement of peace with the Palestinians even less likely, it would have been a pretty remote prospect even if the centre-left had won the election. Efforts to secure a peace deal based on two states have failed repeatedly over the last 25 years, even when the Israeli left was in power. What is more, current circumstances are even less promising than in the past. Despite a fragile rapprochement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian side is in a mess – fractured, demoralised and lacking in strong leadership. Israeli politics have moved steadily to the right over the last decade and more – a trend confirmed by these elections. And the general regional situation is highly unpromising. Any Israeli government, of whatever stripe, would hesitate to take risks with security – with Syria imploding on one border, Lebanon increasingly shaky and the jihadists of Isis on the rampage. Not to speak of Mr Netanyahu’s favourite bugbear – Iran and its nuclear programme.

The international outlook for Israel, under a fourth Netanyahu government, is therefore fairly bleak. Hamas appears to be re-arming in Gaza, so it is likely there will be another conflict there. The Israeli government also believes that it is only a matter of time before Hizbollah launches a rocket assault over the Lebanese border. There is likely to be a confrontation with the Obama administration over the west’s planned nuclear deal with Iran. And patience with the Netanyahu government in Europe is dwindling, which is increasing the likelihood of boycotts aimed at Israel.

Aerotropolitan ambitions

China’s frenzied building of airports includes work on city-sized projects

Mar 14th 2015 The Economist

Politicians in London who have been debating for years over whether to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport might find a visit to Zhengzhou—an inland provincial capital little known outside China—an eye-opening experience. Some 20,000 workers are labouring around the clock to build a second terminal and runway for the city’s airport. They are due to begin test operations by December, just three years after ground was broken. By 2030, officials expect, the two terminals and, by then, five runways will handle 70m passengers yearly—about the same as Heathrow now—and 5m tonnes of cargo, more than three times as much as Heathrow last year.

But the ambitions of Zhengzhou airport (pictured) are far bigger than these numbers suggest. It aspires to be the centre of an “aerotropolis”, a city nearly seven times the size of Manhattan with the airport not a noisy intrusion on its edge but built into its very heart. Its perimeter will encompass logistics facilities, R&D centres, exhibition halls and factories that will link central China to the rest of the global economy. It will include homes and amenities for 2.6m people by 2025, about half as many as live in Zhengzhou’s main urban area today. Heathrow struggles to expand because of Londoners’ qualms, but China’s urban planners are not bothered by grumbling; big building projects rarely involve much consulting of the public.

The idea of airport-centred cities is not a Chinese one. John Kasarda of the University of North Carolina helped to promote it in a book he co-wrote, “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next”, which was published in 2011. He is an adviser to Zhengzhou Airport Economic Zone (ZAEZ), as the aerotropolis is called. China, however, is well-placed to turn Mr Kasarda’s etymological mishmash into reality. The Chinese see airports as “competitive assets”, he says, not “nuisances and environmental threats”—although many cities, inspired by another American-invented term, insist they want to turn themselves into green “eco-cities”. New urban centres are being built on greenfield sites across the country. Some are being developed in such disregard of demand that they are becoming eerily empty “ghost towns”. But they are giving planners ample opportunity to build airports alongside new cities, instead of as afterthoughts.

Construction of airports is proceeding at a blistering pace. The government’s plan for 2011-15 called for 82 new airports to be built during this period. In the event, more than 100 have sprung up. Officials are fond of what they call “airport economics”, by which they mean the use of airport-building to boost local economies.

Only in a handful of cases do overseers of these projects explicitly say that they want to build aerotropolises. One example is in the southern outskirts of Beijing, centred on a village called Nangezhuang, where a groundbreaking ceremony was held on December 26th. Little activity is visible: a few pieces of construction equipment sat idle one recent afternoon at the edge of a sorghum field as herders walked their sheep along a nearby dirt road. But by 2019 the area is due to be turned into one of the world’s largest airports, at a cost of 80 billion yuan ($13 billion). As much as 80 billion yuan more will reportedly be spent turning the surrounding area into an economic and industrial hub.

Some wonder whether all this is necessary. Wang Tao of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, a think-tank in Beijing, calls the airport-construction frenzy “misguided”. He believes many of the cities building big airports do not need them, thanks to a rapid expansion of the country’s high-speed rail network in recent years (see map). Local officials, Mr Wang says, are after political prestige and a quick boost to local GDP; they are happy to leave their successors to grapple with the debts. Many new airports operate at a loss. Mr Kasarda, however, defends the Zhengzhou project. It is misguided, he says, to assess an airport’s value solely by its operational profitability; its role as an economic driver also needs to be taken into account. “We are putting the aerotropolis theory into practice,” says Zhang Yanming, ZAEZ’s Communist Party chief.

Zhengzhou has a long history as a trading and transport hub, well-connected to China’s largest population centres. It also has an abundant supply of labour (it is the capital of Henan province, one of China’s most populous, with more than 100m people). The ZAEZ allows duty-free import and re-export of goods and components. Mr Zhang says this has attracted more than a dozen makers of mobile phones, including Foxconn, a Taiwanese-owned firm best known for producing Apple iPhones. The Foxconn factory employs 200,000 people year-round, and 300,000 at times of peak production. Three-quarters of the iPhones made globally in the past three years came from ZAEZ, Mr Zhang says. Such small, high value-added, products benefit greatly from ready access to airports.

Beijing’s aerotropolis also has built-in advantages, not least strong support from the central government. Mr Kasarda acknowledges that his concept cannot work everywhere, especially in many of China’s smaller cities. But he remains excited by the many suitable candidates in a country that is willing—and more able than most— to give it a try. “They can really design not just an airport, but an aerotropolis from scratch,” he enthuses. It remains to be seen how enthusiastic residents will be about the jets roaring over them.

Too normal to be normal

10 March 2015 The Economist

On March 8th 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, vanished. To coincide with the anniversary of its disappearance, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport released an interim report on its investigation into what happened. But the report raised more questions than it answered. Indeed, much of the document emphasised what the Associated Press aptly described as the “complete normality” of the flight. It noted no unusual activity by the crew before the flight, and no possible safety or maintenance problems other than an expired (but apparently still functional) battery in the locator beacon for the plane’s flight data recorder. Even the weather was normal.

So the new report only deepens the mystery, which now ranks alongside Amelia Earhart’s in the pantheon of unsolved aviation disappearances. Everything was fine, and then suddenly it wasn’t. It might be decades before anyone understands what happened.

All this uncertainty has fuelled the creation of some bizarre theories, none more prominent than that of Jeff Wise, a pilot and science writer who published several thousand words on the subject in New York magazine late last month. Mr Wise’s theory, in short, is that Russian agents highjacked the plane and flew it to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, while using technical trickery to make it appear as if the plane had flown south, into some of the deepest parts of the Indian Ocean. This theory is, to say the least, hard to believe; as Mr Wise notes in the article, not even his own wife thinks it’s true.

New York magazine, which is high-profile and award-winning, should have added a touch more scepticism about the theory into the piece. (A short list of problems with the explanation: it demands that a lot of people keep a very big secret; it relies too much on the idea that investigators must have found some floating wreckage by now if the plane crashed in the ocean; and doesn’t—at least in this blogger’s opinion—offer a convincing motive for the supposed hijacking.) You should be careful not to take it too seriously. But it’s a fun read. (If you’re really intrigued, you can buy Mr Wise’s Kindle Single on the subject.)

It is not the only reputable news organisation to lapse into some anniversary speculation. The BBC broadcast an interview in which two former 777 captains gave air to their suppositions. One, Simon Hardy, suggested that the path taken by MH370, which included an unusual and “emotional” last look at the island of Penang, the birthplace of the captain of the flight, points towards suicide as a motive. He backs this up with other clues, such as the plane’s careful route cutting in and out of Thai and Malaysian airspace, which he supposes was designed to throw air traffic controllers of its trail.

In the absence of hard evidence it is inevitable that romping reads and strange conspiracy theories will fill the vacuum. Whether that is useful is debatable.

Lost boy

9 March 2015

A seven year old boy has been living in the Bhumibol public hospital in northern Bangkok for the last two months.

His grandmother is hospitalised with a brain tumour. Poom, I have not changed his name, visits with his grandfather every day. They stay in a dormitory attached to the hospital for Baht70 (US$2 a day).

Poon’s parents are both working – living in Northern Thailand. An only child, Poom lives with his grandparents.

This bright, engaging boy has made the hospital his new home and knows his way around the rabbit warren of wards and corridors.

He has a notepad with a few Chinese and English words that he is learning.

His food is from whatever his grandmother cannot eat or whatever he is given by visitors. The nurses give his grandfather any leftovers from patient trays.

Poom says that his grandfather paid Baht 15,000 (US$500) for his wife’s surgery. They have no other money. His grandfather is wiry, thin, strained. Yet Poom is bright, cheerful, inquisitive and trusting.

We took him for lunch in the canteen. He ate happily. But his real concern was to look out for Tai and make sure that she found our table.

We watched videos on a mobile phone. Alternating between Spiderman and anything with trains. Airplanes were cool as well. We could see the planes leaving from Don Muang airport and he has been there long enough to recognise Nok, Air Asia and Thai.

“Lost boy” is a bit misleading. He is not lost. He is still engaging with the world. But he has also been out of school for two months and has few friends of his own age that he can interact with.

Bhumibol is a public hospital. It does the best that it can. But it is busy. There are not enough doctors and nurses. The wards are crowded and many of the patients may not leave. For me it is a thoroughly depressing place. For Poom – it is his playground.

The odds are stacked against him. But he does not see that. He made quite an impression.

Where regulation holds back Emirates growth

7 March 2015

With the big 3 airlines in the USA pushing back against open skies agreements wit hthe Middle East it is worth a look at those countrie where Emirates growth is restricted by existinf bu-lateral agreements.

This list will be updated as I (slowly) research the subject.

The agreements are between governments so the rules inpact Emirates and Etihad (and to a lesser extenet Air Arabia) as the major UAE acrriers.

USA: Open Skies but under threat from the three major US airlines.
UK: Open Skies
Canada: UAE is restricted to one daily flight to Canada.
India: India is unique in having separate bilaterals with different emirates of the UAE; agreements are currently in place with Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah.
South Africa:
Phillipinnes: Emirates has been forced to end its third daily flight to Manila.
Germany: UAE airlines are allowed to fly unlimited flights to the four German destinations of their choice.
Japan: Under the 2103 bilateral agreement, UAE carriers will be able to serve Abu Dhabi-Tokyo Narita and Dubai-Tokyo Narita 14 times weekly for each pairing, a doubling from the previous limit of seven weekly services. Traffic rights to Tokyo’s convenient downtown airport, Tokyo Haneda, have also been introduced, with both Dubai and Abu Dhabi allowed seven weekly services from each city to Haneda.

Eurowings to Dubai for €99.99

7 March 2015

Lufthansa, Europe’s second-largest airline, announced €99.99 introductory fares for its new long-haul venture, Eurowings, to Dubai on Wednesday.

The airline will fly to Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central (DWC) from Cologne Bonn Airport, in Germany’s east, from October 25, Eurowings said in a statement.

Fares will start at €99.99 one-way.

“We are not presumptuous to think that we could challenge Emirates with two weekly flights to Dubai given the massive capacity they have,” Karl Ulrich Garnadt, who heads Lufthansa’s passenger business, told Bloomberg in an interview in Berlin where the announcement was made.

Eurowings will offer 620 seats per week between Dubai and Cologne compared to the 3500 weekly seats offered by Emirates to the German cities Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich.

“This is not a provocation; I believe Emirates won’t even notice this.” The venture will start out with promotion prices, which will soon be raised, he said.

Lufthansa has in the past openly opposed the growth of the three major Gulf airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

The German airline decided in October to axe its Abu Dhabi service citing increased capacity from fellow German carrier Air Berlin, in which Etihad owns nearly 30 per cent.

Eurowings will be the second European low cost carrier flying from DWC in the emirates south. Hungary’s Wizz Air was one of the launch carriers from DWC when passenger flights started in October 2013.

The new Eurowings brand is based on Lufthansa’s Germanwings airline, a low cost airline in Germany and Europe.

Eurowings will also fly to Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand and Caribbean cities Varadero, Bridgetown and Punta Cana.

The Eurowings fleet will initially consist of two long-haul aircraft Airbus A330-200 and later expanded to seven.

SunExpress Deutschland, a joint venture of Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines, will operate the long-haul route aircraft on behalf of the new Eurowings. Vienna has been chosen as the first definite location outside of Germany as a new Eurowings base.

Emirates fleet speculation

7 March 2015

Emirates airlines is considering the purchase of up to 70 twin-engined Airbus A350s or Boeing 787s, company president Tim Clark said in Berlin Thursday, which would bolster the carrier’s long-haul fleet.

Clark remained vague on the number and maker of twin-engined wide-body planes, but said the acquisition was part of Emirates’s efforts to increase its share of the traffic on the world’s long-haul routes.

“Possibly it will be 50 to 70, but we still have to decide,” Clark said during a visit to Berlin’s ITB tourism convention, adding many details on the planned purchase will depend on development of Emirates’ principal Dubai International Airport hub.

The announcement represented more potential good news for Airbus, following Clark’s earlier comments that Emirates may buy 100 to 200 A380s — the superjumbo that Airbus received no orders for in 2014.

The Dubai Air Show is in November this year. It may be that any new orders are only announced at that time.

The emperor has few clothes

3 March 2015 The Nation newspaper

The international community remains sceptical of the Thai government’s claims of democratic reform

Falsehoods won’t help Thailand salvage an international reputation badly tarnished by undemocratic rule and rights violations. In fact, the propaganda and denials being pumped out by the Foreign Ministry and its envoys abroad are making the Kingdom look worse.

Thai envoys have borne the brunt of strong international criticism of the May 22 coup and junta rule. The diplomats and Foreign Ministry officials are in a tricky position. Not at liberty to offer their own interpretation of political developments in Thailand, they must instead follow the official line of their military government. However, foreign countries have other, often more reliable, sources of information, including their own embassies here, the news media and international and local rights groups. Developments in Bangkok reach ears in Washington, New York, London, Beijing and Tokyo in minutes, if not seconds. Few facts can be concealed from view in our relatively open society.

But the main fact of international concern is the military’s seizure of power from a democratically elected government. The long-held international consensus is that elections are the only legitimate way to change a government. Thus, as long as the Thai government remains non-elected and military-backed, countries will call Thailand an authoritarian state. Likewise, as long as martial law remains in force, we can expect foreign criticism of basic rights violations here. And, as long as the constitution currently being drafted contains undemocratic elements, foreigners will question the Thai government’s commitment to democratic reform.

The proposal for a non-elected Senate is just one example. If it stands, ordinary voters would lose their say in the composition of this powerful checks-and-balances watchdog for the executive branch. Without an elected Senate, how can we call to account those who have the important job of scrutinising government legislation? An elected Senate worked quite well under the 1997 Constitution, so why change the system? And how can Thai diplomats defend the change as “democratic reform”?

Unfortunately they will have little choice in the matter. Several Thai diplomats have already told their counterparts, host countries and international media that Thailand has no political prisoners. As long as people remain imprisoned in this country because of their political beliefs or actions, the government cannot expect to be believed when it claims there are none.

According to Amnesty International, 665 individuals were arrested or detained for resisting the junta’s orders in the three months after the coup. Among them, nearly 100 faced criminal prosecution, while more than 50 faced a military court.

Even worse, dozens of individuals have been charged or investigated for alleged lese majeste, under a draconian law imposed to silence criticism of the monarchy. Of course, many democratic countries also have laws to protect their heads of state, but the Thai version faces widespread international criticism that the establishment here uses it as a political tool to silence opposition. Suspects are rarely granted bail and many are treated as if they were murderers, though it is often unclear how their offending words or expressions could have damaged the monarchy.

The world knows what is going on in Thailand. Denials and obfuscation will not help us regain our place on the international stage. For that to happen, we need genuine democratic reform.

Planespotters arrested in the UAE

3 March 2015

There are times when the UAE is its own worst enemy. All the money spent on mega projects and tourist promotions is easily undone by overly zealous police work, misunderstanding, and unnecessary arrests.

On 22 February three British plane spotters were arrested at Fujairah Airport over allegations of suspicious behaviour.

The men are being held at Fujairah prison on suspicion of breaching “national security”, according to the charity Detained in Dubai, which has now intervened and is seeking the trio’s release.

There really is little to see at Fujairah airport except some old, stored, rust buckets sitting on the tarmac gathering dust.

Conrad Clitheroe is one of the three men arrested – it is very obvious from his facebook page that he is a serious ‪#‎avgeek‬ –

Sending these three guys home immediately would make a great deal of good sense.

Three British men have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) accused of breaching “national security” after they were found photographing and taking notes near an airport.

The trio, who claim to have been plane spotting, are understood to be being held at Fujairah prison after being confronted by an off-duty policeman at Fujairah Airport, about 80 miles from Dubai.

Valerie Clitheroe said her husband Conrad, 53, and his friend Gary Cooper, 45, had been detained along with their former work colleague, Neil Munro, since February 21.

Her husband, who was due to return to the UK on February 22, was being forced to share a cell with more than 20 men, she said. “He’s really choked up every time I’ve spoken him. They’re trying to help each other but it’s difficult not knowing.”

Ms Clitheroe, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, said she has spoken to her husband three times on the telephone since his arrest and has raised concerns over his health.

She added: “They would never do anything that could risk national security. They weren’t taking pictures. They didn’t realise plane spotting was such an issue.”

The charity Detained in Dubai has now intervened and is seeking the men’s release. “All three friends have a shared hobby of plane spotting and were keen to see Fujairah airport, where many older and rarer aircrafts can be seen,” a spokeswoman said.

“The practice is legal in the UAE though not widely understood, nor appreciated by authorities. The families are in obvious distress at how a simple and common hobby behaviour can turn into a prison ordeal. “

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesman said: “We can confirm the arrest of three British nationals in Dubai on 22 February. We are providing consular assistance at this time.”

Solar Impulse 2

3 March 2015

Solar Impulse 2, the only solar airplane able to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, is flying over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The aircraft is undertaking preparation flights for the first ever Round-The-World Solar Flight which will be attempted starting early March from Abu Dhabi

NokScoot still grounded

2 March 2015

News on the worst named airline (not yet) in the skies.

NokScoot is still to fly its first revenue flight. It has now revised the planned launch of scheduled operations to early May of this year, regulatory approvals notwithstanding. Having secured both its Air Transport Service License and its Air Operators Certificates from the Thai government last year, the start-up has been in the process of securing the requisite operating permits and slots for its intended international routes.

Minority shareholder, the Singapore Airlines Group, said in its earnings announcement for the third quarter of its 2015 Financial Year that while NokScoot had originally intended to serve Tokyo Narita in Japan initially, it would now adopt a more flexible approach and would consider serving Japan alongside South Korea and China in its opening phase.

On its launch, the longhaul budget carrier will operate a trio of high-density B777-200(ER)s, formerly with Scoot (TZ, Singapore Changi), featuring 415 seats in a two-class configuration. 415 seats on a 777-200 must be some sort of unwelcome record.

According to CAPA, NokScoot has confirmed that it does not plan to operate any additional B777s beyond the initial three and is instead looking to secure 2017 delivery slots for new generation aircraft – most likely B787-9s although it also plans to look at A330s.

Where is home?

1 March 2015 – Pico Iyer

This is a Pico Iyer talk at a TED event in 2013 – but it is worth repeating:

Where do you come from? It’s such a simple question, but these days, of course, simple questions bring ever more complicated answers.

People are always asking me where I come from, and they’re expecting me to say India, and they’re absolutely right insofar as 100 percent of my blood and ancestry does come from India. Except, I’ve never lived one day of my life there. I can’t speak even one word of its more than 22,000 dialects. So I don’t think I’ve really earned the right to call myself an Indian. And if “Where do you come from?” means “Where were you born and raised and educated?” then I’m entirely of that funny little country known as England, except I left England as soon as I completed my undergraduate education, and all the time I was growing up, I was the only kid in all my classes who didn’t begin to look like the classic English heroes represented in our textbooks. And if “Where do you come from?” means “Where do you pay your taxes? Where do you see your doctor and your dentist?” then I’m very much of the United States, and I have been for 48 years now, since I was a really small child. Except, for many of those years, I’ve had to carry around this funny little pink card with green lines running through my face identifying me as a permanent alien. I do actually feel more alien the longer I live there.

And if “Where do you come from?” means “Which place goes deepest inside you and where do you try to spend most of your time?” then I’m Japanese, because I’ve been living as much as I can for the last 25 years in Japan. Except, all of those years I’ve been there on a tourist visa, and I’m fairly sure not many Japanese would want to consider me one of them.

And I say all this just to stress how very old-fashioned and straightforward my background is, because when I go to Hong Kong or Sydney or Vancouver, most of the kids I meet are much more international and multi-cultured than I am. And they have one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more besides. And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections.

And for more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than, you could say, with a piece of soul. If somebody suddenly asks me, “Where’s your home?” I think about my sweetheart or my closest friends or the songs that travel with me wherever I happen to be.

And I’d always felt this way, but it really came home to me, as it were, some years ago when I was climbing up the stairs in my parents’ house in California, and I looked through the living room windows and I saw that we were encircled by 70-foot flames, one of those wildfires that regularly tear through the hills of California and many other such places. And three hours later, that fire had reduced my home and every last thing in it except for me to ash. And when I woke up the next morning, I was sleeping on a friend’s floor, the only thing I had in the world was a toothbrush I had just bought from an all-night supermarket. Of course, if anybody asked me then, “Where is your home?” I literally couldn’t point to any physical construction. My home would have to be whatever I carried around inside me.

And in so many ways, I think this is a terrific liberation. Because when my grandparents were born, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community, even their sense of enmity, assigned to them at birth, and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents’ age. No coincidence that the president of the strongest nation on Earth is half-Kenyan, partly raised in Indonesia, has a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law.

The number of people living in countries not their own now comes to 220 million, and that’s an almost unimaginable number, but it means that if you took the whole population of Canada and the whole population of Australia and then the whole population of Australia again and the whole population of Canada again and doubled that number, you would still have fewer people than belong to this great floating tribe. And the number of us who live outside the old nation-state categories is increasing so quickly, by 64 million just in the last 12 years, that soon there will be more of us than there are Americans. Already, we represent the fifth-largest nation on Earth. And in fact, in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, the average resident today is what used to be called a foreigner, somebody born in a very different country.

And I’ve always felt that the beauty of being surrounded by the foreign is that it slaps you awake. You can’t take anything for granted. Travel, for me, is a little bit like being in love, because suddenly all your senses are at the setting marked “on.” Suddenly you’re alert to the secret patterns of the world. The real voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust famously said, consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes. And of course, once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home become something different.

Many of the people living in countries not their own are refugees who never wanted to leave home and ache to go back home. But for the fortunate among us, I think the age of movement brings exhilarating new possibilities. Certainly when I’m traveling, especially to the major cities of the world, the typical person I meet today will be, let’s say, a half-Korean, half-German young woman living in Paris. And as soon as she meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young guy from Edinburgh, she recognizes him as kin. She realizes that she probably has much more in common with him than with anybody entirely of Korea or entirely of Germany. So they become friends. They fall in love. They move to New York City. (Laughter) Or Edinburgh. And the little girl who arises out of their union will of course be not Korean or German or French or Thai or Scotch or Canadian or even American, but a wonderful and constantly evolving mix of all those places. And potentially, everything about the way that young woman dreams about the world, writes about the world, thinks about the world, could be something different, because it comes out of this almost unprecedented blend of cultures. Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going. More and more of us are rooted in the future or the present tense as much as in the past. And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.

And yet, there is one great problem with movement, and that is that it’s really hard to get your bearings when you’re in midair. Some years ago, I noticed that I had accumulated one million miles on United Airlines alone. You all know that crazy system, six days in hell, you get the seventh day free.

And I began to think that really, movement was only as good as the sense of stillness that you could bring to it to put it into perspective.

And eight months after my house burned down, I ran into a friend who taught at a local high school, and he said, “I’ve got the perfect place for you.”

“Really?” I said. I’m always a bit skeptical when people say things like that.

“No, honestly,” he went on, “it’s only three hours away by car, and it’s not very expensive, and it’s probably not like anywhere you’ve stayed before.”

“Hmm.” I was beginning to get slightly intrigued. “What is it?”

“Well —” Here my friend hemmed and hawed — “Well, actually it’s a Catholic hermitage.”

This was the wrong answer. I had spent 15 years in Anglican schools, so I had had enough hymnals and crosses to last me a lifetime. Several lifetimes, actually. But my friend assured me that he wasn’t Catholic, nor were most of his students, but he took his classes there every spring. And as he had it, even the most restless, distractible, testosterone-addled 15-year-old Californian boy only had to spend three days in silence and something in him cooled down and cleared out. He found himself.

And I thought, “Anything that works for a 15-year-old boy ought to work for me.” So I got in my car, and I drove three hours north along the coast, and the roads grew emptier and narrower, and then I turned onto an even narrower path, barely paved, that snaked for two miles up to the top of a mountain. And when I got out of my car, the air was pulsing. The whole place was absolutely silent, but the silence wasn’t an absence of noise. It was really a presence of a kind of energy or quickening. And at my feet was the great, still blue plate of the Pacific Ocean. All around me were 800 acres of wild dry brush. And I went down to the room in which I was to be sleeping. Small but eminently comfortable, it had a bed and a rocking chair and a long desk and even longer picture windows looking out on a small, private, walled garden, and then 1,200 feet of golden pampas grass running down to the sea. And I sat down, and I began to write, and write, and write, even though I’d gone there really to get away from my desk.

And by the time I got up, four hours had passed. Night had fallen, and I went out under this great overturned saltshaker of stars, and I could see the tail lights of cars disappearing around the headlands 12 miles to the south. And it really seemed like my concerns of the previous day vanishing.

And the next day, when I woke up in the absence of telephones and TVs and laptops, the days seemed to stretch for a thousand hours. It was really all the freedom I know when I’m traveling, but it also profoundly felt like coming home.

And I’m not a religious person, so I didn’t go to the services. I didn’t consult the monks for guidance. I just took walks along the monastery road and sent postcards to loved ones. I looked at the clouds, and I did what is hardest of all for me to do usually, which is nothing at all.

And I started to go back to this place, and I noticed that I was doing my most important work there invisibly just by sitting still, and certainly coming to my most critical decisions the way I never could when I was racing from the last email to the next appointment.

And I began to think that something in me had really been crying out for stillness, but of course I couldn’t hear it because I was running around so much. I was like some crazy guy who puts on a blindfold and then complains that he can’t see a thing. And I thought back to that wonderful phrase I had learned as a boy from Seneca, in which he says, “That man is poor not who has little but who hankers after more.”

And, of course, I’m not suggesting that anybody here go into a monastery. That’s not the point. But I do think it’s only by stopping movement that you can see where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home. And I’ve noticed so many people now take conscious measures to sit quietly for 30 minutes every morning just collecting themselves in one corner of the room without their devices, or go running every evening, or leave their cell phones behind when they go to have a long conversation with a friend.

Movement is a fantastic privilege, and it allows us to do so much that our grandparents could never have dreamed of doing. But movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. And home, in the end, is of course not just the place where you sleep. It’s the place where you stand.

Station Eleven review – Emily St John Mandel’s gripping apocalypse drama

27 February 2015 from The Guardian

My current reading – and very good it is too.

In her much-tipped fourth novel, longlisted last week for a US National Book award, Canadian author Emily St John Mandel makes something subtle and unusual out of elements that have become garishly overfamiliar. A virulent new strain of flu that “exploded like a neutron bomb over the surface of the earth”, wiping out 99% of humanity; characters holed up in tower blocks while the world collapses around them; “unspeakable years” in which the unlucky survivors walk blasted roads in search of vestiges of civilisation; crazed prophets leading murderous cults and “ferals” leaping out from behind bushes. We all know the script, as Mandel drily notes when one character begins a supermarket sweep of bottled water and tinned food: “Jeevan’s understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he’d seen a lot of action movies.”

But whereas most apocalypse novels push grimly forward into horror or dystopia, Station Eleven skips back and forth between the pre-flu world and Year Twenty after global collapse, when the worst is over and survivors have banded together into isolated settlements. Gradually, the book builds cumulative power as connections are made between the two time frames, and characters who do or don’t survive: including Jeevan, a paparazzo who planned to become a paramedic; Kirsten, a child actor who grows up to perform Shakespeare after the pandemic; and Miranda, whose creative energies were poured into a hand-drawn comic called Station Eleven which miraculously survives, becoming both a totem of the old world and a distorted mirror of the new.

The man who links them all, Arthur Leander, is a famous actor who dies on stage just before the Georgia Flu sweeps the world. Though he doesn’t experience the catastrophe, his story is at the heart of the book, and this is typical of Mandel’s roving, slantwise focus. For the last night on earth before the lights start to go out, she dwells on the production of King Lear which is Arthur’s last; in the post-pandemic world, she follows Kirsten and the rest of the Travelling Symphony, a peripatetic band of actors and musicians whose motto, taken from Star Trek, is “survival is insufficient”. They struggle and squabble – someone has scribbled “Hell is other people” inside one of their caravans, and someone else has crossed out “other people” and written “flutes” – but find safety and purpose as well as “moments of transcendent beauty” in their shared endeavour.

Such frozen moments appear as tableaux throughout the book: fake snow falling on the cast of King Lear as they gather around the fallen Arthur; Miranda gazing from a twilit beach at huge lit-up ships out to sea as the world comes to a standstill; the flat, eerie panels of Miranda’s Station Eleven. Unlike Anne Washburn in her recent play Mr Burns, which also featured a travelling band of actors in a dystopic future America, Mandel isn’t interested in how apocalypse might act upon art: this is very much a novel about individual rather than collective destiny. The glacial calm of her prose extends to the characters, so that while the book is visually stunning, dreamily atmospheric and impressively gripping, we never feel the urgency and panic of global disaster, let alone its moral weight.

But perhaps that is beside the point. Station Eleven is not so much about apocalypse as about memory and loss, nostalgia and yearning; the effort of art to deepen our fleeting impressions of the world and bolster our solitude. Mandel evokes the weary feeling of life slipping away, for Arthur as an individual and then writ large upon the entire world. In Year Twenty, Kirsten, who was eight when the flu hit, is interviewed about her memories, and says that the new reality is hardest to bear for those old enough to remember how the world was before. “The more you remember, the more you’ve lost,” she explains – a sentiment that could apply to any of us, here and now.

Some notes on Emirates’ financials

27 February 2015

“The main criticism leveled at Emirates by rivals is that it benefits from indirect government subsidies in the form of cheaper fuel, very low landing fees and cheap aircraft financing. The
fact is that Emirates pays market rate for fuel and that only around 20% of its fleet is financed through export credit agencies such as the US Export-Import Bank. It is true that landing fees are low at Dubai compared to other hubs but the legacy carriers in Europe also enjoy a significant advantage having inherited around half the valuable slots at their respective hub airports.
The main cost advantage of Emirates comes from higher employee productivity.” Deutsche Bank

“An overview of the audited financial accounts contains no material surprises once one gets used to seeing consistent profits at an airline… Emirates’ key competitive advantage is its relative youth (the fleet and the company), the location and efficiency of the Dubai hub, and strong management.” UBS

We cannot find anything in Emirates’ accounts which indicates that the business is subsidised directly or indirectly or given any undue preferences”…“We are encouraged by the high
level of disclosure that Emirates offers, even as an unlisted company.” JP Morgan

“Gulf carriers remain a material strategic challenge to the European legacy industry. But we do not see their growth creating an inevitable structural crisis in the industry. We would expect
European carriers to continue to lobby against the advantages of the Gulf carriers…The most successful strategy, however, in our view, will be to focus their development on routes where they have structural geographic advantage over Gulf carriers, rather than chasing those markets where Dubai’s location and Emirates’ strong network give it a major advantage.” RBS

The Blowback From Delta CEO’s Open Skies Escalation

22 February 2015 The Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thailand’s ineffective rule by force

21 February 2015 The Washington Post editorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 February 2015 The Guardian editorial

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

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

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

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

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

Delta gets ugly in its fight with Emirates

18 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This document does not appear to have been publicly released.

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

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

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

It is one of the most insincere apologies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This argument has a long way to run.

Purging the Shinawatra clan

12 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

The Junta is slowly strangling Pheu Thai’s leadership.

William Shatner to beam into Dubai

11 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Anwar Ibrahim jailed again

10 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline: Anwar Ibrahim case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thailand’s generals should stand aside

8 February 2015 – The Financial TImes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emirates’ Clark strikes back in US open skies debate

7 February 2015 Flight Global

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dubai360 – opens the door but where are the people?

28 January 2015 www.dubai360.com

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

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

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

It is good – but does it do enough?

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

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

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

Where are the folks that still build the old dhows?

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

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

Where are the often endless immigration queues at DXB airport?

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

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

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

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

Flights to Baghdad suspended after shooting

28 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Flydubai said bullet holes were discovered in the fuselage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Etihad said that cancellations and refunds are being offered.

Emirates continues to fly into Erbil and Basra.

Why the Greek result matters

27 January 2015 – The Economist

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

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

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

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

The Royal Road to Ruin

26 January 2015 The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yingluck’s farcical impeachment; and now, criminal charges

24 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravery? What else were they to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 January 2015 The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too sick to work?

16 January 2015

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

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

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

A Swiss forex shocker

15 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Euro is now under serious pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaucoup de chefs de gouvernement mondiaux ne sont pas Charlie

9 January 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who was there:

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

In the United Arab Emirates “the law prohibits criticism of rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest…”

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

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

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

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

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

In Jordan “the law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the gov…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Benin “the government occasionally inhibited freedom of the press.”

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

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

Beaucoup de chefs de gouvernement mondiaux ne sont pas Charlie

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

8 January 2015 Nabila Ramdani in The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Humor, Turned Into Tragedy

The Attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Tradition of Parisian Wit

8 January 2015 from the New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Another stage in what?” I said.

“The war against the Arabs,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to make sense of the Paris murders

8 July 2015

Dave Pope’s pointed cartoon sent with the following twitter message: “Can’t sleep tonight, thoughts with my French cartooning colleagues, their families and loved ones #CharlieHebdo”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Muslim protester,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours faithfully, Mehdi.

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

Understanding the Brits

2 January 2015

Tai might find this helpful 🙂

Goodbye 2014 – you will not be missed

31 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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