Patrick Ward

Crisis over!

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With politicians jumping over one another to claim that they are steering the world back to economic recovery, there are still few indicators that this is actually the case. Or are there?

"In the past, mentions of the word 'recession' have been a useful indicator of the likelihood of the real thing," says the Economist magazine. "Could the same be true of a 'green-shoots' index and the likelihood of economic recovery?"

So there we have it. With the economy in chaos, and our rudderless leaders in a spin, at least we have one scientific indicator that everything is going to be alright.

Rewards for failure

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As seen in the recent expenses rows, government ministers have a huge talent for sniffing out a few extra bucks. One minister has managed to combine this nous with acknowledgement of his party's tumbling popularity.

The unnamed minister told friends last month that he had placed a bet with bookmakers that Labour would fail to win a majority at the next general election and would be forced instead into coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The odds at the time (mid-2007, mid-"Brown Bounce") were 66 to one. He claims to expect a "substantial" payout if proved correct. That's one way to top up your pension.

You're fired! No, really

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Since December 2007, 5 million US workers have been thrown into unemployment, with 8.5 percent of the country without work. Depressing news - unless you are a TV exec.

Endemol, the brains - although perhaps not the heart - behind Big Brother, has launched a new US reality show for these difficult times: Someone's Gotta Go!

Each show focuses on a struggling small business where redundancies are on the cards. Workers are then pitted against one another, with the wage books opened up and employees fighting it out over whose pay should be cut. The entertainment reaches a crescendo when the workforce votes on which of their colleagues should be thrown onto the dole.

No change in Israel

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The Israeli general election has resulted in Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party being invited to form a new government.

Likud, by Israel's standards, is on the centre-right of the political spectrum. But this is in a country where the entire political sphere is already skewed far to the right.

Tzipi Livni of the "centrist" Kadima Party, together with the Labour Party of Ehud Barack, look set to reject entering a coalition with Netanyahu, because, as Livni put it, "We were not elected to legitimise an extreme right government and we must be an alternative of hope and go to opposition." And these were the people who, as defence and foreign secretaries respectively, led the massacre of Gaza.

Not Shelling out

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"Shell is helping create viable and sustainable alternatives for both fuel and power through scientific and technology developments in such areas as wind, biomass, hydrogen and solar." So says the website for Shell, amid a flurry of other stories of how the gas company is saving the world.

Not any more. The multinational is having investment problems, and renewable energy just doesn't attract the cash. It is therefore to be dumped in favour of biofuel investment, which stands accused of increasing food prices and deforestation.

"We are businessmen and women," confirmed Linda Cook, Shell's executive director of gas and power. "If there were renewables [which made money] we would put money into it."

Chalking Sense

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In recent weeks police have been seen to arbitrarily stop and search young people outside the Taking Liberties exhibition at the British Library (slogan: "In some countries you wouldn't have the right to visit this exhibition about your rights").

The police excuse, we are told, was that it was "half term" (are kids now so bored in their holidays that they resort to terrorism?).

But the Metropolitan Police entry in the Irony Awards has since been eclipsed by their colleagues in Bristol. Paul Saville, a student, was arrested for chalking on a pavement: "Liberty: the right to question. The right to ask: 'Are we free?'"

Scottish jobs for Scottish workers

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"Use of foreign labour set to rise six-fold under SNP", shouts a press release from the Scottish Labour Party.

"European labour currently accounts for 5 percent of the workforce but this could rise to 20 or 30 percent in future if the SNP does not listen to the concerns coming from industry leaders," adds Labour MSP Duncan McNeil.

McNeil has a long history of siding with the less fortunate in society. In 2006 he advocated adding oral contraceptives to methadone prescribed to heroin addicts.

Hate Mail

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The fight by the Mail on Sunday (MoS) against extremism continues.

A website article by Peter Hitchens, "Did the Police Run Away?", analyses an internet video showing a breakaway section of a Gaza demonstration in London. It shows the police walking away from the marchers as they shout at the poor plods.

Tabloid Islamophobia - the web of deceit

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"They sometimes say if you give a fool a piece of rope he'll hang himself, and it seems that in this case this person has done exactly that." So said "terror expert" Glen Jenvey to CBS news in 2004, referring to his "sting" of cleric Abu Hamza, which he claims was pivotal in Hamza's arrest. Perhaps Jenvey should have chosen his words more carefully.

On 7 January the Sun ran a front page story with the headline, "Islamic fanatics name Alan Sugar, Mark Ronson and Lord Levy in a hit list of Britain's leading Jews." The story was based on claims by Jenvey that fanatics were using the online Ummah forum to orchestrate revenge attacks for the siege of Gaza. "Expect a hate campaign and intimidation by 20 or 30 thugs," said Jenvey.

Name and shame?

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"Are there names you are likely to encounter or not encounter on an Activities Abroad holiday?" asked Activities Abroad founder Alistair McLean in an email to 24,000 customers. "After a lot of research we came up with two lists of names.

"Unlikely: Britney, Kylie-Lianne, Bianca, Tiffany, Dazza, Chardonnay, Chantelle, Candice, Courtney, Shannon. Likely: John, Sarah, Charles, Rachel, Michael, Alice, Lucy, Joseph, Charlotte. Nuff said, innit?"

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