Friday, 16 January 2015

What's in the Headlines?

Rabbi urges Europe to arm Jewish communities

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association, the largest Jewish federation in Europe, has called on the European governments to allow synagogues, kosher shops and Jewish property to be authorised to carry guns in response to fears of rising anti-Semitism.

“The Paris attacks, as well as the many challenges and threats which have been presented to the European Jewish community in recent years, have revealed the urgent need to stop talking and start acting,” says a letter written this week by Rabbi Menachem Margolin

Newsweek magazine’s Catherine Phillips asked for clarification from Margolin. The Rabbi told her that as many people within the Jewish community as possible should carry weapons. He told her that a license to carry would provide people in the Jewish community with a sense of security that is sorely lacking in Europe, particularly in light of recent events.

One of those critical of Margolin’s proposal is Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said that a handgun would have been of little value in the Paris shootings:
As to personally being armed, such a move could help when a Jewish person is threatened by thugs, but won’t help if — God forbid — Charlie-type terror attacks are launched.

A delegation from the European Jewish Congress spoke to EU foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini on Wednesday, calling on Brussels to create a pan-European body to combat anti-Semitism.

“Now more than ever, the European Union needs to create a position and organization specifically geared toward finding long-lasting solutions for anti-Semitism and other forms of racism,” EJC president Dr Moshe Kantor said.

Kantor added that it is “incumbent on the European Union to urgently place combating anti-Semitism as one of its highest priorities because this is a hatred that transcends borders and cannot be dealt with by any single nation on its own.”

Friday, 9 January 2015

What's in the headlines?

Iran’s “real Iron Dome” air defence system

Iran has deployed its new national missile defence system. Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabifard, Vice Speaker of Iran’s Parliament dubbed the system the “real Iron Dome,” in reference to the joint US-Israeli Iron Dome missile shield, which demonstrated its capabilities in the recent conflict between Hamas fighters and the Israeli Defence force. Aboutorabifard went on to say “Today Iran's Air Defence System has provided our country with an Iron Dome in its real sense and Iran's airspace is the safest in the region,"

Iran first announced plans to create a mid-range and long-range national missile defence system back in August. However, Tehran has so far provided no footage that would prove the effectiveness of the air defence system. Aboutorabifard insisted that Iran's air defence system has “the highest deterrence power in the region.”

Iran’s military personnel and its scientists have been busy developing technology to further advance their strategic capabilities. Fars news agency reported that a UAV with abilities to evade missiles is in development, as well as testing a number of suicide drones (a type of cruise missile). Iranian Air Force spokesman General Hossein Chitforoush announced that Iran has started mass production of
Saeqeh (Thunder) fighter jets

Friday, 5 December 2014

What's in the Headlines?

The Niger Delta suffers another oil spill

The Niger delta has experienced another oil spill from one of Shells pipelines. Local environmental activists have said that it ranks as one of the worst in Nigeria for years.

The late November spill happened in Okolo Launch on Bonny Island. According to an investigation by shell and government officials 3,800 barrels have spilled recently, but 1,200 barrels had been recovered as of Tuesday.

In spite of efforts to manage the spill, vast quantities of oil have reached the shore and have started to have an adverse effect on the fragile ecosystem. "We saw dead fish, dead crabs ... This spill occurred 7-8 nautical miles from the shore ... so the volume runs into thousands of barrels," Alagoa Morris, head of the Niger Delta Resource Center for Environmental Rights Action

20 million people and 40 different ethnic groups inhabit areas of the delta, it is the largest wetland in Africa and contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. The unique ecosystem also has more species of freshwater fish than any ecosystem in West Africa.

Shell has placed the blame for the spill on failed crude theft, and claims that over the last five years 70 percent of all oil spills have been the result of sabotage.

However, Shell has recently been held accountable for the environmental damage caused by a 2011 oil leak in the offshore Bonga oil field, this incident saw nearly 40 thousand barrels of oil drained into the sea. The Nigerian parliament determined that Shell must pay nearly 4 billion dollars (3.2 billion euros).

In a recent investigation Amnesty International revealed that Shell has repeatedly made false claims about the size and impact of two major oil spills at Bodo in Nigeria that happened back in 2008. The aim of the company was to minimize its compensation payments for the damage caused to 15,000 people whose livelihoods were devastated by oil pollution. In a high-profile compensation case in England’s High Court, Shell did confirm that the two spills had been far greater than the previously believed. Yet Shell did not give a revised figure, which now stands at 4,144 barrels.

Friday, 21 November 2014

What's in the Headlines?

China strengthens relationship with Pakistan  

The Chinese government has promised $45.6 billion (29.1 billion pounds) that will be used to finance energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan.

The China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) project will take place over the next six years. The project is likely to strengthen an already robust relationship between the two states, while also providing a much needed energy source for Pakistan as well as strategic and economic value for China.

“Pakistan and China, both nuclear-armed nations, consider each other close friends. Their ties are underpinned by common wariness of India and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence in South Asia.” - Reuters

Pakistan's minister for water and power Khawaja Asif said "Pakistan will not be taking on any more debt through these projects," China’s banks will be loaning money to Chinese companies to invest in the projects.

China will be developing Gwadar port which is in a strategically important location close to the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping lane that could secure the transportation of oil from the Gulf States, across Pakistan, and into western China. The route will bypass India. Although allies India and China are still economic competitors.

Khawaja Asif  went on to say "In total we will add 16,000 MW of electricity through coal, wind, solar and hydroelectric plants in the next seven years and reduce power shortage by 4,000 to 7,000 megawatts," 

Friday, 24 October 2014

What's in the Headlines?

Mexican mayor and wife suspected involvement in disappearance of 43 students

Protesters stormed and set fire to the main government building in Iguala, Mexico on Wednesday as anger continues to mount over the failure of authorities to locate 43 students who have been missing since September 26.

As the attack on the town hall occurred, Mexican federal police forces, which have been in charge of public safety since the September attacks, were nowhere to be found.

Attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam said there was clear evidence that José Luis Abarca, the mayor of Iguala, ordered local police to target the students who are from a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa. The students had travelled to nearby Iguala to protest against what they said were discriminatory hiring practices, and to collect funds for their college.

However, the mayor knew of the student’s intentions and had local police intercept them because he feared they would disrupt a speech by his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda. Mr Murillo Karam said police officers testified that they had been told to intercept the students "on the mayor's orders". The local police have been accused of firing upon the three buses carrying the students, killing six. Eyewitnesses described seeing the remaining 43 students being bundled into police cars.

Mr Murillo Karam said the police then handed the students over to a local drug trafficking group, known as Guerreros Unidos, who took them to an area where mass graves have since been discovered. The leader of Guerreros Unidos, Sidronio Casarrubias, was arrested last week and told police that the mayor’s wife María de los Angeles Pineda was the group’s “main operator within city hall”.

Abarca requested leave from his post following the incident on 26 September and neither he nor his wife or the town's police chief, Felipe Flores have been seen since.

What's in the Headline?

China’s mission to the moon

Beijing has launched the third phase of its lunar exploration program. The spacecraft was launched from the LC2 launch complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan Province at 1800UTC. The mission, dubbed Chang’e-5-T1, is to head into Lunar Transfer Orbit (LTO), before performing a flyby around the Moon and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and landing after a 9 day flight, , the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said in a statement.

The mission will be used to test technology that will be used in China’s unmanned 2017 mission to land on the moon to gather lunar samples. China currently has a rover, the Jade Rabbit, on the surface of the moon which was launched as part of the Chang'e-3 lunar mission late last year, and has been declared a success by Chinese authorities. The military-run project has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually to send a human to the moon.

Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, as well as evidence of the ruling Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

Friday, 17 October 2014

What's in the Headlines?

Fall in crude prices may push Russia into a recession

Russia's ruble currency has hit yet another record low on the back of plummeting oil prices. The price of crude oil has fallen 15% in the past three months and is at its lowest in four years. Higher output coupled with weaker demand from China and Europe has driven the price of crude down to $85. The US also now produces 65% more oil than it did five years ago following the increase in shale production. Russia obtains more than half its budget revenue from oil and gas, making its economy vulnerable to oil price changes.

On Wednesday Russia's central bank announced that it would sell $50 billion in foreign currency auctions, this move would help the banking sector pay back its dollar and euro debts and try to ease the ruble's volatility. The central bank has already spent almost $7 billion this month propping up the ruble.

Timur Nigmatullin, a macroeconomic analyst at Investcafe, argued that relatively high oil prices in the first half of the year, when prices were above $100 a barrel, would compensate for the lower prices now. Nigmatullin believes that the government would seek to mitigate the country’s worsening economic situation by borrowing, reducing expenditures and spending money from the reserve fund built up when oil prices were higher. But all these have negative effects, notably rising debt servicing costs and reduced popularity for the government, he said.

Economists have warned that if the oil price does not improve, Russia could face a recession in 2016 or even earlier. Russian recession may impact Putin’s popularity with the country’s business elite. Konstantin Sonin, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, said the falling oil price would lead to spending cuts that could set off alarm bells among business leaders. "The elite is now realizing what these achievements cost," Sonin said, referring to Putin's annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist state in eastern Ukraine.

Friday, 10 October 2014

What's in the Headlines?

Clashes erupt on Turkey’s streets, at least 31 people killed

At least 31 people have been killed and 360 others wounded in four days of violent protests in Turkey by Kurdish demonstrators. The demonstrators are frustrated by the government's lack of action to save the Syrian town of Kobane from a jihadist militant takeover.

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons against a students in Ankara, namely those protesting in support of Syrian Kurds in Kobani at the Middle Eastern Technical University (ODTÜ) campus and at Ankara University. At least 25 people have been detained. Turkish troops and tanks were deployed to restore order. Curfews were imposed in five provinces.

However, the curfew was broken in the southeastern province of Gaziantep on Thursday night when clashes broke out between pro-Kurdish activists and their opponents. The rival groups attacked each other with pistols, rifles and axes, leaving at least 20 people injured.
Kurdish forces say they have stalled the advance of Islamic State (IS) militants in the town after more American airstrikes overnight.

Turkish forces are standing by near Kobane but the government in Ankara has refused to send them into action, or to establish a safe corridor to ferry fighters and supplies to the besieged Kurdish fighters. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu commented on the situation "It is not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own,"

Washington has suggested that Ankara is not pulling it’s own weight, but the Turkish government resents this. Cavusoglu went on to say that "We are holding talks ... Once there is a common decision, Turkey will not hold back from playing its part."

Monday, 29 September 2014

What's in the Headlines?

Creator of WWW calls for internet Magna Carter

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web has called for a revolutionary bill of rights to guaranty the web’s independence. Berners-Lee believes that an internet version of the Magna Carta is necessary to seize power back from governments and private corporations who seek to control the web for their own gain. The British computer scientist has always been a vocal critic of attempts to infringe on the impartiality and neutrality of the web and argues that it must retain its democratic nature.

"Suddenly the power to abuse the open internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies." He told the audience at the Web We Want festival in London.  "If a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites they go to, then they have tremendous control over your life . . . If a government can block you going to, for example, the opposition's political pages, then they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.”

When Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, he dreamed of a neutral space where humanity, with all of its “ghastly stuff,” would be free to be itself. "Closed content silos are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the web. High costs and lack of locally relevant content, especially in the developing world, still exclude the majority of the world's people from the web's global conversation." It is believed that the only information that should be kept off the web relates to things that were illegal before the web, and remain illegal now – such as “child pornography, fraud, telling someone how to rob a bank,” and the like.

Friday, 26 September 2014

What's in the Headlines?

Drug Trafficking and Prostitution boost Spain’s GDP by €9 billion

Spain has decided to include illegal activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution into the country’s gross domestic product. On Thursday the country lifted its GDP figures for 2013 by €26.19 billion to €1.05 trillion thanks to the inclusion of such activities and also from contributions of research and development and military armament. 0.35% of Spain’s newly calculated GDP comes from prostitution and 0.50% of it from drug trafficking, amounting to €9 billion, and reducing
the country’s debt ratio of 98.9 percent to 96.4 percent.

The Spanish national statistics agency, the INE, calculated that in 2011 Spain was home to 300,000 prostitutes and used this number to calculate how much they made in consultation with sex clubs. The quantity of drugs seized in 2014 was estimated as a percentage of the whole illegal drugs industry and used to evaluate it. According to figures from the Government Delegation of National Plan on Drugs cannabis is the most popular substance used in Spain with figures reaching 27.4 percent, followed by powder cocaine at 8.8 percent.

The changes to Spain's GDP are a result of new EU reporting requirements, meaning countries now have to provide details on what proportion of gross domestic product is based on activities as diverse as people smuggling, contraband cigarettes and prostitution.

France refused to provide data on prostitution, arguing that it was not necessarily carried out willingly. Sweden, where paying for sex is a crime, also refused. Italy on Monday published its own revised GDP figure, which rose by 3.8 percent when the new norms were applied. Britain has estimated that counting illegal activities could add €12.3 billion to its production, just below one percent of its GDP for 2013.