Monday, August 30, 2010
08/30/2010 A symbolic funeral, but anger echoes across city

Ceremony was supposed to give victims closure, but that is difficult for many who fled and can't afford to rebuild or return

The coffin was opened. Funeral came one after another.

Some spat their contempt and turned away swiftly. Others reached inside the grand, silver casket and kept a hand there for a moment as if trying to purge the years of terrible memories and suffering. Each left a handwritten note.

\\ "As a church, I 'm will be fine," said one. "You made me lose my house. Perhaps you have taken away my life as I know, but you LL" will never take away my soul. "

Another said: "Thank God you are gone but unfortunately you will never be forgotten."

The congregation had gathered to bury Hurricane Katrina five years after it smashed through New Orleans' inadequate levees, flooded most of the city and erased entire communities. About 1,800 died and more than a million fled, many never to return. Tens of thousands are still living in trailers scattered across neighbouring Texas and beyond. Many of those who did come back faced desolation, the destruction of their homes, the loss of their jobs.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, said the symbolic funeral would lay to rest "the hurt, the pain, the woundedness, the hopelessness".

He then looked on slightly astonished at the vigour of an evangelical preacher, Jesse Boyd, who put it another way: "We're here to say arrivederci, adios, goodbye to Katrina. Rest well."

Five years on, the government has spent $143bn on the reconstruction of public buildings and private homes, roads and bridges, in one of the largest programmes of its kind in US history.

But the anger of the notes dropped into the coffin echoes across large areas of a city that has recovered so completely in parts that the only evidence of Katrina is how often it still comes up in conversation.

The money-spinning French Quarter is again busy with tourists, and white southern gentlemen in panama hats and bow ties populate the restaurants of the smarter ends of town as if nothing ever happened.

Then there is Ventura Drive, a few blocks from Katrina's funeral in St Bernard parish. House number 3112 stands almost alone. There is a compulsory demolition notice taped to the window. There is no 3110 or 3114.

The blocks to the left and right, in front and behind have been wiped of all sign of the homes that once stood there. Today grass stretches right across the space where the houses stood close to an oil refinery at the water's edge, which poured fuel into the flood five years ago.

More than a third of the population of St. Bernard has not returned.

Across the administrative line in the neighbouring Lower Ninth, the predominantly working-class African American district that bore the worst of the disaster, just one in four residents has moved back. One is Henry Irvin, whose house sits virtually alone on St Louis Avenue.

"The house next door had almost blown on top of mine but it didn't. But my house did fill with water, covered with water. Everything inside was destroyed. All my personal stuff," he said. "Volunteers gutted my house out. We had to air it out and then we had to rebuild. New insulation, new electrics, new everything."

Irvin, 74, fled the day before the storm. For the next three years he moved around, living with relatives and in a trailer provided by the authorities. Finally he moved back home in 2008.

"I was just trying to hurry up and get home because there was nothing like living in that damn trailer. Most of my neighbours are gone. In my square I'm the only house. All around are empty lots. Turn the corner and there's nothing there but grass and trees," he said. "There was a time when everybody around here knew everybody. It changed. There's not the people, not the community. Perhaps they can change it for the better, but they've got to give us a fair share of the pie. There's a lot of people all the way to Texas that want to come back home but they can't because they can't afford to rebuild or bring their kids back here because we don't have the schools. They give the grants to the people with the big houses."

Only one in five schools in the Lower Ninth reopened. Hundreds of businesses have been abandoned. Housing plots are not empty, many filled with rotting wooden buildings, destroyed and overgrown. Irwin, like many residents of the Lower Ninth, believes that the city does not want the people back.

"It's racism. We've been suffering from racism down here for many, many years," he said. "There are some who want to run us all out of here. Some big people in this town are trying to buy all that land and make it a green space with motels and gambling and casinos."

It's a common view in the Lower Ninth, though it has been dismissed by state and city leaders. But earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the criteria for awarding grants to rebuild discriminated against black people.

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a third of New Orleans residents say their lives are still getting worse because of the hurricane. African Americans were more than twice as likely as whites to say they had not recovered from Katrina.

The hurricane is often spoken of not as a passing disaster but as a living entity. People say "she" not "it". Joey DiFatta, chairman of the local council at the time the hurricane struck, declared at the symbolic funeral: "Today we're burying this witch."

For Doris Voitier, who had not long been schools superintendent for the St Bernard parish when the hurricane hit, Katrina lives on in people's anger at the human failings that compounded the disaster. These began with the collapse of the levees because of a lack of government investment and the disastrously slow response of the Bush administration â€" the first outsiders to arrive in St Bernard were the Canadian Mounties.

When the disaster struck, Voitier was looking after about 250 people who could not be evacuated and were sheltering in a school. These included an elderly woman who was a double amputee, people in need of dialysis and wheelchair users. Hundreds more arrived after the levees broke. There was little food or water, and no assistance came for days.

"There was no rescue. While the world was watching downtown New Orleans, we were under water and no one came for us for five days," she said.

She has been at the forefront of rebuilding St Bernard. When the federal government failed to respond, she worked with the local oil refineries to bring in trailers to use as schools in order to help families return. Tears well up in her eyes as she speaks of those early days of the disaster.

"We had kids living in trailers, we had kids living in tents. People didn't have running water or anything. Parents would bring their kids to school in pyjamas in the morning and we'd change them at school," she said.

But even for those who returned, everything had changed.

"It's been longer getting rid of that anger because we haven't seen too much of a sense of normalcy returning. It's been too catastrophic. When you lose everything, you've lost people and friends, you've lost homes, you've lost the sense of community that you've been involved with your entire life, and you felt that nobody cared enough, nobody would do something about it.

"I'm 61 years old. This has been the defining moment of my life. Everything we talk about is before Katrina and after Katrina. I think for people of my generation it will always be that way. On a personal level, it will never be buried."

Chris McGreal

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Greeny NEWS
08/30/2010 From sprint to marathon

With the help of Twitter and sites such as Long Form and The Awl, longer articles are finding a new lease of life as people take the time to find and read them

Everybody's got it in for the web this summer. It's getting the blame for everything from destroying our businesses to destroying our brains. Rupert Murdoch is still trying to see if newspapers such as the Times can leave the open web behind, while Nick Carr's latest polemic, The Shallows, argues that online culture is eroding our capacity to think properly. Even Wired â€" the magazine that championed the rise of the dotcom world â€" is putting the boot in: its latest cover story is an incendiary piece co-authored by its editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, arguing that "the web is dead".

A few new experiments in recent weeks, including one of my own, are designed to find out whether the tools usually labelled as distractions can actually help find remarkable journalism.

I went to Twitter, and set up an account: @IfYouOnly. The motto was short and sweet ("if you only read one thing today, make it this") and the premise was straightforward: to highlight and link to a single piece of gripping, powerful and memorable writing each weekday. The project is still very much in the early stages, but so far we've linked to stories about Japanese hermits, Colombian assassins and Californian ghost towns. A handful of new followers sign up every day, and other people have sent in suggestions of good stories to link to. Most of the material lives on magazine sites (such as the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Esquire), newspaper sites (New York Times, Los Angeles Times) or web-only outfits (KeepGoing).

The project is in its infancy but one thing I've already found out is that there is a growing community of people dedicated to spreading good writing using the very technologies that people say is killing long-form journalism.

"Our site has gotten far more attention than we possibly imagined it would," says Aaron Lammer, co-creator of longform.org, which promises to give its users links to articles that are "too long and too interesting to be read on a web browser".

Each day the New York-based book editor and his partner, Max Linsky, select a handful of pieces and pass them through a service called Instapaperthat makes them easy to print or read on devices such as telephones, melt or iPad.

\\ "The enthusiasm has been registered by writers, publishers, publications, and journalistic centers," Lammer said. "This is a reply sa 'on a very specific point, we again' that is determined by technology and the way the stories were published."

Other services are also springing up to help people find routes to great stories. Among them is givemesomethingtoread.com (also linked to Instapaper) and a Twitter account, @longreads, Which boasts more than 5000 followers. It turns out that, like me, eager readers trying to scratch his itch.

"I know that, personally, it's reintroduced me to truly great magazine-length storytelling â€" from traditional media like the New Yorker and Esquire to newer sites like The Awl ," says Mark Armstrong, the creator of Long Reads, who works for an internet finance startup by day.

"I never used to read longer stories online because I was usually at work when I was browsing the web, or I just felt uncomfortable reading while hunched over a keyboard."

The idea of pointing audiences towards interesting material is far from a new thing. Print outlets have been syndicating articles for almost as long as they've existed, while specialist magazines such as the Week emerged in the mid 1990s to collate and distribute journalism. Then, of course, there's the venerable Reader's Digest â€" nearly a century old â€" which promised to bring its audiences the best writing, even if it took a hatchet to most of it along the way.

The web itself has a well-developed culture of sharing, with some early bloggers such as Jason Kottke and the team at BoingBoing forging careers out of their practice of sharing must-read links about a wide variety of subjects. More complex sites such as Fark, Slashdot and Reddithave a great community, dedicated to sharing news and dissecting each other.

The nature of discovery and consumption may be changing, however, as the desire to read spreads to new devices and the ability to share comes through new services. Amazon says that Kindle editions of books are now outselling hardbacks, which, even when taken with the requisite pinch of salt, indicates a major shift in consumption. Apple has gone so far as to build a "reader" function â€" one that strips out adverts from web pages and reworks them into a distraction-free format â€" into its latest web browser.

The most important element may be that reading, ultimately, human activity. Where is Google News, described the boss after Wall Street Journal ', Robert Thompson, as "parasites" , offers publishers little more than robotic scraping, recommendations from real people are reworking the relationship between technologies and publishers.

"We're experiencing a moment in which the humans are regaining some control over what gets filtered around the web," says Armstrong. "Twitter and Facebook are critical to driving traffic for publishers, and people like to share stories that are thoughtful or unique. These stories are a bit more evergreen than breaking news â€" they live longer lives and get passed around."

Whether you call it editing, PKN, or simply exchange, the publishers would do well to capitalize on the potential boom for a long read. So if technology changes or not, but our main motives remain the same, said Lammer.

Bobby Johnson

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Greeny NEWS
Saturday, August 28, 2010
06/13/2010 Obama and Cameron move to end rift

A telephone call to David Cameron eases tension amid fears that stock markets will dump oil giant's shares tomorrow

President Barack Obama has moved to defuse a growing political storm over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill yesterday assured the Prime Minister that he was not trying to blame Britain for the disaster.

In a 30-minute phone call, the U.S. president took an extraordinary step of insisting that he was not trying to undermine the value of BP, criticizing the company. He reacted furiously to delays in BP in curbing the diversion, which has been described as the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

"The president and prime minister reaffirmed their confidence in the unique strength of the US-UK relationship." Government officials insisted the discussion had been amicable and the two men had even bet each other a beer over the result of the England-US World Cup encounter.

The prime minister has been under intense pressure from senior figures in his own party and parts of the press to stand up for his country and defend the British-based company. Boris Johnson, the London mayor, was among those who complained that the tone of the attacks on BP were "anti-British".

Cameron had resisted calls to respond to the attacks, instead saying he understood Obama's anger and was "frustrated and concerned about the environmental damage caused by the leak". One Tory backbencher, Douglas Carswell, said there had been an act of "environmental vandalism" and now was not the time to "wrap ourselves in the flag".

Eleven men were killed following an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Scientists have said the amount of oil gushing out of the well is far higher than previously estimated. The US Geological Survey has calculated that as many as 40,000 barrels a day could have been escaping before containment efforts were put in place. Obama, also under political pressure, reacted furiously and insisted he would have fired BP's chief executive had he employed him. Tony Hayward was criticised for saying the leak was "relatively tiny" compared to the size of the ocean.

BP shares have fallen by 40% since the explosion and could be hit again if the company decides to suspend its quarterly dividend payout. The company is the biggest dividend-payer in the UK and has been expected to pay more than £7bn over the year. Private companies, councils and public bodies have invested hundreds of billions of pounds of their pension funds into the company because it is normally considered a safe bet.

The company reiterated yesterday that no decision had been made on the dividend. Various options will be discussed at a board meeting tomorrow. Ed Miliband, the Labour leadership candidate and shadow climate change secretary, said the lesson was that the world had to be serious about weaning itself off a chronic dependence on oil. The environmental group Greenpeace had called on local authorities to reconsider the heavy reliance of their pension funds on BP in the months leading up the accident. They argued it was wrong to invest public money in the company because of its involvement in risky projects.

One of the councils that have invested most in the company of West Yorkshire, who plowed with 3,35%, or £ 197m, its pension fund.

Charlie Kronick, senior climate adviser of Greenpeace, said that the lessons of the Gulf oil spill that "in pursuit of the last drops of oil" by the enormous risks and the likelihood of accidents and unsafe dividends are likely to increase.

But Ros Altmann, an expert on pensions policy, pointed out that all investments carried risks. "If you don't want your pension to be at risk of a BP-style or bank-style disaster, buy gilts. You have to take some risks to make some returns," she said.

Anushka Asthana
Julia Kollewe
Toby Helm

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Greeny NEWS
07/23/2010 Fighters turn to theatre to advocate Middle East peace | Phoebe Greenwood

Combatants for Peace, a group drawn from the Israeli and Palestinian forces 's, which transforms their own experiences in drama. But it will help find a solution to political conflict?

In a list of unlikely places to look for peace in the Middle East, the Israeli Defence Force has to come top. But the field of amateur dramatics definitely comes a close second. Enter Combatants for Peace, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have been trained to fight either in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) or as Palestine's Fatah paramilitaries, but have now put down their guns and together taken to the stage. The group, formed in 2005, perform sketches based on their own experiences of war to promote a "non-violent" resolution to the conflict. Where these theatrical workshops take place is critical to the protest. Most recently, they improvised a scene about Israeli check-points to an audience of Palestinians, Israelis and international activists on a hill-top in the West Bank over-looking an Israeli settlement. They didn't get far before IDF officers stopped the show.

Pitching a group of trained killers-turned-thespians as messengers of peace seems a hard sell: disputes over the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory resolved in one almighty improvisation workshop …? Really? Even allowing for the most obliging of circumstances, it's difficult to see how theatre can pack so much as a glancing punch at figures of real power in Israel, Palestine or anywhere. No matter how powerfully a piece of anti-war drama is scripted or performed, or how important the audience, it takes a leap of faith to see how theatre can genuinely affect the direction of a conflict, particularly when it is pitted against the immovable brawn of the Israeli war machine or a Palestinian committed to martyrdom.

Group members have fought on opposing sides in the same gun battles; one former IDF officer even interrogated another Palestinian member. All the Israelis in the group served either as conflict soldiers or were stationed at volatile checkpoints, while most of the Palestinian members have spent time in Israeli prisons. Many have lost contact with their families, who now regard them as traitors. And yet the group is growing in number. The theatrical element is led by Alon, who has worked in the theatre since leaving the army (his military career ended with a six-month stint in Israeli jail for refusing to serve in Gaza in 2002). The group employ a method pioneered by Brazilian director Augusto Boal â€" "the theatre of the oppressed". With an emphasis on audience participation, their performances aim to find resolutions to political dilemmas by acting them out as scenarios.

There is widespread frustration among Israeli and Palestinian peace activists straining to make their voices heard. Home-grown dissenters are being dragged out for public humiliation and punishment by an increasingly right-wing Israeli government that has introduced laws branding activists as traitors who can be punished with prison sentences. Artists from the Pixies to the Klaxons have cancelled their Tel Aviv performances in protestin connection with the deaths on board, trying to break the blockade of Gaza, while in Israel itself besieged liberals prefer to say nothing of fear of the repercussions or straightforward hopelessness.

But there is no chance of Combatants for Peace giving up. Speaking from the very pit of the conflict is a group with an absolute belief in the transformative power of empathy and the possibility of resolving conflict without violence. Shehadah says that, despite criticism from within his own community, he would prefer to leave Palestine than stop his work. It's hard not cheer a sentiment like this. Accepting the impotence of humanity (in this case, theatre) in the face of government-led conflict would be writing the region off as a lost cause, something too depressing to contemplate. Alon agrees: "We don't have a Gandhi in the Middle East," he says. "There's no Israeli Martin Luther King. So while we wait for one to arrive, we have to do the best we can with what we have."


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Greeny NEWS

Friday, August 27, 2010
08/18/2010 Local paper accused of hypocrisy for advertising brothel it 'exposed'

Croydon Advertiser's front page last week splashed on the results of "an undercover investigation" that revealed the existence of "a seedy brothel.

In this article, Sinister brothel found next to a charity service , Was written in the style News of the World investigation, with the obligatory use of a hidden camera.

It even had the intrepid reporter, having risked his life to expose a massage parlour masquerading as a brothel, using the time-worn phrase about making his excuses and leaving prior to any sexual activity.

Evidently, the Advertiser journalist was prompted to track down this den of iniquity after a complaint from an unnamed businessman.

But he could have found evidence much closer to home because page 52 of his own newspaper carried an advert for the very same "fantasy massage" establishment he went to such trouble to "reveal".

Several Croydon-based bloggers spotted the embarrassing truth. One of them, Inside Croydon, Under its impact on exposure, the public story Sadvertiser caught with pants down .

Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT) was also unimpressed by the paper's hypocrisy, claiming that the Advertiser had carried adverts for the same brothel for years. It went on to say:

CCAT brought this fact to the Croydon Advertiser in the past ...

CCAT is baffled by the utter hypocrisy of the Croydon Advertiser; on the one hand to have a front page article about sinister brothels in our midst, and then, on the other, to take money from the same brothel and help it to thrive, demonstrates an alarming degree of double standards from our local family newspaper.

The group called for a boycott of the Advertiser - and the Croydon Post - "Until they stop making a profit from the exploitation of women."

I phoned the editor of advertisers ', Andy Worden, but a newsdesk person told me he was "not available to comment." Clearly, the paper's publishers, Northcliffe Media are embarrassed too, also refusing to comment. Deputy managing director, Alex Leys, suggested I call the editorial director in charge of south-east weeklies, Alan Geere, and his PA told me he had just spoken to Leys and was suddenly unavailable to comment too.

So there is no clue as to whether the incident will lead to Northcliffe Media changing its policy on running adverts for brothels. Meanwhile, consider these three further points:

First, the Advertiser "investigation" concludes by pointing out that it is illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 1956 to run a brothel. It is not, however, illegal to carry adverts for one.

Second, Northcliffe Media is the regional newspaper division of the Daily Mail & General Trust. What, I wonder, would the morally upright Daily Mail have to say about its company making a profit from prostitution?

Third, the Advertiser's rival, the Croydon Guardian (owned by Newsquest/Gannett) dropped all "adult services ads" in July 2008.

Sources:Croydon Advertiser /Hapless Hack/Love Croydon/ Inside Croydon /CCAT

Roy Greenslade

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Greeny NEWS
07/29/2010 Sly Bailey: 10p Star's impact 'minimal'

Trinity Mirror chief rival relieve publisher adjusted profit before tax rose 61% to £ 50.4m in the first half

Sly Bailey has dismissed the impact of Richard Desmond's move to cut the Daily Star's price to just 10p as "minimal", as Trinity Mirror reported strong first-half results.

Trinity chief executive Bailey said the Mirror, which is priced at 45p, was not seen as a competitor to the Daily Star by consumers as it was a much higher-quality read.

"There has been a minimal impact on the Mirror's sale, less than 2,000 copies per day," she said, referring to the impact of the Star's price cut from 5 July. "The fact is that the Star is only worth 10p and we have no intention of going down that road."

Trinity Mirror's adjusted pre-tax profits surged 61% to £50.4m in the six months to 4 July. The publisher recorded a return to advertising growth across its national titles, with ad revenue up 2.2% year on year, although revenue continued to slide at the 150-paper strong regional newspaper operation to the tune of 7.2%.

The company said that following the acquisition of GMG Regional Media in March that it would "continue to seek further consolidation opportunities where there is a good commercial and strategic fit along with a strong financial case".

Bailey refused to confirm or deny a report that Trinity Mirror has held discussions with rival DMGT over a deal with its regional newspaper operation, saying: "I believe that scale is an important driver of growth; the results out of GMG are a case in point, further consolidation is about timing, price and the general state of the economy to ensure we can deliver value for shareholders."

Trinity Mirror managed to keep total group revenues flat year on year at £382m; this included £18.2m of new revenue from the former GMG Regional Media operation. Group revenues actually fell by 5% when the impact of the acquisition is stripped out â€" still an improvement over the 12.4% decline reported for 2009.

Adjusted operating profit rose 25.7% to £ 61.7m.

Trinity said that advertising revenues now count for 46% of total revenues. The company's national newspaper division saw revenue fall by 3.4%, fuelled by a drop in circulation revenue, as ad revenue climbed 2.2%. Trinity said that its national titles achieved growth in ad revenue every month this year with "double-digit" growth in June, partly thanks to the World Cup.

The publisher's regional operation increased its revenue by 4.5%, including GMG Regional Media's performance, or fell by 7.2% when it is excluded. In 2009 the regional division saw revenues decline 23.5%.

Trinity Mirror said that it expected to see a "modest improvement" in the rate of decline in revenues in the second half of the year. Revenues are expected to be up 3% this month, although taking out the impact of GMG Regional Media the company will see revenues fall 6% year on year. Advertising revenues in July are expected to be flat for the national newspaper division and 9% down for the regional operation.

The company said that Mirrorfootball.co.uk, which it launched last summer, Will hit profitability in its first year.

"Looking ahead to the second half of the year we remain cautious on the economy but are confident of delivering a robust performance for the full year driven by stabilising revenues and continued cost efficiencies," the company said.

Total costs, excluding GMG Regional Media operating costs of £15.5m, fell by £29m.

The company increased its annual savings target of 5 million, 25 million pounds, of which 15 million pounds made in the first six months.

Trinity Mirror's share price rose by 17.5%, or 13.25p, to 89p on the back of the results announcement this morning.

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email editor@mediaguardian.co.uk or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000.

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Mark Sweney

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Greeny NEWS
Thursday, August 26, 2010
08/22/2010 We've gone into the ecological red

On 21 August our environmental resource budget ran out. Now we're living beyond the planet's means to support us

At the weekend, Saturday 21 August to be precise, the world as a whole went into "ecological debt\\ ".

That means in effect that from now until the end of the year, humanity will be consuming more natural resources and producing more waste than the forests, fields and fisheries of the world can replace and absorb. By doing so, the life -support systems that we all depend on are worn ever thinner. Farms become less productive, fish populations crash and climate regulating forests decline. All become less resilient in the face of extreme weather events.

The date is arrived at by comparing our annual environmental resource budget with our ecological footprint â€" the rate at which we spend it.

The worse news is that this also assumes that the whole of nature is there for human exploitation. Any farmer or ecologist will tell you that for ecosystems to function healthily fallow portions and periods are essential.

In a worst case economic scenario, like the banking crisis, governments can, and did, intervene to ensure that money still comes out of the cash machines. But if ecosystems crash, they cant print more planet.

These same data are used for the production of dates above, also show a creeping vulnerability in the UK. We have become more dependent on food and fuel imports. Deterioration of self-sufficiency have a high economic price as the price, so necessary to grow. But it also harms national security and in other ways.

It was only two years ago that we lived through another food and fuel crisis when prices for both rose suddenly and dramatically. At the time, the severity of the bank failures distracted many from the long-term signals. Increased competition for declining oil reserves and a global agricultural system increasingly vulnerable to climatic upheaval, mean that such events are likely to become much more common.

The oil price is now back up the curve (and the events in the Gulf of Mexico lay bare the difficulties extracting the remaining more marginal oil fields). Major crop failure this year has caused the growth of "nationalism Food".

Following serious droughts, Russia, one of the world's major grain baskets, banned grain exports in order to guarantee their domestic food security. Ukraine, one of the world's other major producers, is likely to follow.

Every week seems to announce new "land grabbing " initiatives in which wealthy nations or corporations buy or take long-term leaseholds on productive farmland in poorer countries, motivated either by concerns over feeding their own people, or with a speculative eye sharply focused on the money to be made from a combination of demand and scarcity rising hand in hand.

to the mudslides in China.

Greater climatic disruption is one side-effect of over-consumption as we pour more waste greenhouse gases from fossil fuels into the atmosphere than can be safely absorbed. Our danger now is that these dynamics feed off each other. Overstretched and denuded by our over-consumption, the productive ecosystems that we depend upon, and rely upon to meet rising demand, are becoming more vulnerable to a destabilised climate.

We need to start scrutinising and acting to correct our ecological debts with at least the same seriousness as is being given to our private and public financial debts. Banks were saved at the point of collapse after several years of ignored warnings. If we leave it that long to correct our environmental deficit, it will be too late.

Andrew Simms

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Greeny NEWS

08/24/2010 Aditya Chakrabortty

Blair's dream of a working-class kid getting a degree that would catapult him or her up the social ladder has not come off

So predictable, so rote is the newspaper coverage of exam season that I can only presume editors of mid-market newspapers have to sit their own A-level on how to report them. Shots of exuberant blondes jumping up and down clutching their results? That gets you a basic pass. Fancy-that story about an Asian lad with top grades in maths and science â€" even though he's only 10 and in all likelihood faces an adolescence of Belmarsh-style bullying? Now you're up to a B. Oh, and the conviction that university is the best place for any 18-year-old? Bingo: you've scored the A* required for a place at Associated Newspapers.

And many parents are ready to do their patriotic duty and send Jack and Emily in college. Over the past couple of decades, students at universities, has become almost ritual, with more than 40% of school leavers toddling from the collection of degree - investing 3 or more years and racking up tens of thousands of pounds of debt process.

A couple of years ago, two economists at the University of Kent

What about the extra money that degree-holders are meant to earn over their careers â€" the so-called graduate premium? Even by Whitehall calculations, that has dropped from £400,000, to £100,000 now â€" which works out to an annual £2,500 over a 40-year career. But even that more modest average is swollen by the number of Oxbridge students who end up at Goldman Sachs.

Ewart Keep, an economist at Cardiff, taking an example of a young man who studied history and social sciences in the former field and comes out with the average: "Statistically, it 's unlikely to earn more than if he 'D just left school at 18. "Keep together with his colleague, Ken Mayhew , argues that the reason the Great Degree Scramble has not paid off in better jobs is because Labour did not try to provide them. That would have required nurturing new businesses and raising conditions for the most awful jobs â€" the sort of thing Blair and his party emphatically did not do.

The scramble for degrees resembles the audience at a theatre standing up: as each row stands up, those behind them have to get up on their hind legs too â€" so that no one can see the play any better but everyone is a lot more uncomfortable. That metaphor comes from the Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang who, in his new book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, points out that plenty of economies have prospered without forcing their young into university. Up until the mid-90s, Switzerland â€" one of the richest and most industrialised nations in the world â€" sent only 10-15% of students off to get a degree. But it made sure the others had apprenticeships with actual businesses and vocational training. There must, surely, be a lesson in that.

Aditya Chakrabortty

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Greeny NEWS
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
08/24/2010 Greater University Con: Why giving degrees willy-nilly does not 't really help the economy

Blair's dream of a working-class kid getting a degree that would catapult him or her up the social ladder has not come off

So predictable, so rote is the newspaper coverage of exam season that I can only presume editors of mid-market newspapers have to sit their own A-level on how to report them. Shots of exuberant blondes jumping up and down clutching their results? That gets you a basic pass. Fancy-that story about an Asian lad with top grades in maths and science â€" even though he's only 10 and in all likelihood faces an adolescence of Belmarsh-style bullying? Now you're up to a B. Oh, and the conviction that university is the best place for any 18-year-old? Bingo: you've scored the A* required for a place at Associated Newspapers.

To be fair to journalists (and this thing goes far wider than the Daily Mail), that last belief is not theirs alone; it's shared by prime ministers and civil servants alike. Even before Tony "education, education, education" Blair set a target that half of all school leavers would go to university, it was John Major who presided over a huge expansion of higher education. Official thinking was best summed up by an official report for the Treasury published in 2006: "The UK must become a world leader in skills. Skills is the most important lever within our control to create wealth and reduce social deprivation." Going to university was not only a teenager's lucky ticket to the top jobs; it would make the economy more dynamic. It was practically in the national interest.

And plenty of parents were ready to do their patriotic duty and send Jack and Emily off to college. Over the last couple of decades, attending university has become almost a rite of passage, with well over 40% of school-leavers toddling off to collect a degree â€" investing three or more years and racking up tens of thousands of pounds of debt in the process.

Except that 20 years into this historic expansion of the higher- education system, the evidence is that a big proportion of those freshly minted degrees have not repaid either the hopes or the tuition fees and student loans invested in them. Quite the opposite: one in three graduates are now in jobs that before the 90s would not have required a degree at all.

A couple of years ago, two economists at the University of Kent crunched through data from 1992 up to 2006 on how graduates fared in the jobs market. It was a big exercise, going through thousands of career paths, and it was carefully done. Francis Green and Yu Zhu took into account that it can take a while for graduates to find the right job (or, as their parents might more precisely refer to it, to switch off E4). Yet they still found a third of graduates were "overqualified" for their jobs. Many were "formally overqualified", in positions that wouldn't usually require a university degree; but one in 10 were what Green and Zhu called "really overqualified" â€" their jobs barely utilised their expensively acquired skills.

What about the extra money that degree-holders are meant to earn over their careers â€" the so-called graduate premium? Even by Whitehall calculations, that has dropped from £400,000, to £100,000 now â€" which works out to an annual £2,500 over a 40-year career. But even that more modest average is swollen by the number of Oxbridge students who end up at Goldman Sachs.

Ewart Keep, an economist at Cardiff, takes the example of a young man who studied history or social science at a former poly and comes out with a middling degree: "Statistically, he's unlikely to earn any more than if he'd simply left school at 18." Keep, together with his colleague Ken Mayhew, argues that the reason the Great Degree Scramble has not paid off in better jobs is because Labour did not try to provide them. That would have required nurturing new businesses and raising conditions for the most awful jobs â€" the sort of thing Blair and his party emphatically did not do.

The scramble for degrees resembles the audience at a theatre standing up: as each row stands up, those behind them have to get up on their hind legs too â€" so that no one can see the play any better but everyone is a lot more uncomfortable. That metaphor comes from the Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang who, in his new book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, points out that plenty of economies have prospered without forcing their young into university. Up until the mid-90s, Switzerland â€" one of the richest and most industrialised nations in the world â€" sent only 10-15% of students off to get a degree. But it made sure the others had apprenticeships with actual businesses and vocational training. There must, surely, be a lesson in that.

Aditya Chakrabortty

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08/23/2010 Clearing centres feel the squeeze on A-level results day

Record demand for university places means Greenwich is attracting better qualified students

With 16 years' experience handling the clearing process at Greenwich University, head of admissions Bev Woodhams is something of an old pro. But as the phone lines open on A-level results day, even she is feeling nervous. With demand for university places outstripping supply, she is expecting a record number of calls.

According to Ucas figures, at the start of clearing, there were 18,500 vacancies, down on 32,000 last year. So, with more than 180,000 candidates chasing places, competition is likely to be fierce.

At the university's clearing centre, a chorus of ring tones can be heard well before the hotline opens at 8.30am.

During the 12-hour shift, a team of around 90 specially trained staff work flat out to recruit students for around 1,000 unfilled places at the university, as well as confirming places for those who have met their offers and handling general enquiries, including those thinking about applying to university for the first time.

As the first helpline operators take to the phones, Woodhams knows the day will be tough. Things are "definitely tighter than last year," she says, when there were 1,600 clearing vacancies â€" 600 more than this year.

The knock-on effect, says Steve Wallis, director of recruitment and admissions, is that whereas the clearing process used to last well into September, many courses could be closed within the week.

There is another moment of panic, just after 9 am, when the lights go out and clearing center plunged into darkness. "All we need now is a power cut," moans Paul Butler, head of corporate information systems, which is on hand to solve any technical problems. Fortunately, the problem is quickly solved.

At 9.20am, the Ucas site is back up. (A spokesperson from Ucas denied there were problems with the website, saying that although it was running more slowly, "at no point did the site go down".) The room is starting to look like a trading centre, with supervisors yelling instructions and staff pacing the floor as they offer advice to worried callers. Bryony Chinney is the first in the call centre to offer a place at the university.

Although 18-year-old Sarah Aziz has missed the A and two Bs needed to study biomedical sciences at Kings College, London, she is delighted to have been offered a place on an architecture degree course. "With all the media hype about there not being enough places to go round, I'd convinced myself I wouldn't get to university this year," she says.

Providing applicants good news that they 've been accepted for the course "real adrenaline," said Chinney, who, like many operators hotline, a student at the university. But there are low points. "One person, not 't meet the criteria for it, of course,' d claim, said that I 'd have ruined his life."

By 11am, calls have peaked, with all 80 lines busy, including those in an overflow room based in another building. Calls average around 700 an hour over the lunchtime period â€" almost double the number received in the same time period last year. In between monitoring call levels, Wallis is keeping a close eye on student numbers and is already talking about closing clearing places on architecture degrees.

Eighteen-year-old Siavash Giahchi has been offered a place on a media and communications degree course, after missing the two Bs and a C needed to study media at Birmingham University. Like Aziz, he had convinced himself he wouldn't be able to get into university this year. "When I read in the newspaper that even students with A grades might not get places this year, I thought I wouldn't stand a chance."

Greenwich's vice-chancellor and the former higher education minister, Tessa Blackstone, says that media coverage is partly responsible for the panic. "The media has completely overhyped the story. It's demotivating for young people who may ask what the point is of trying hard. Students with good grades will get a place at university this year."

But she admits that students may need to be "more flexible", both in terms of their chosen institution and their course. The impact of the recession on aspirations to go to university has been completely underestimated, she says, and is one of the main reasons for the increase in applications this year.

For 21-year-old Chris Garrett, who secured a place to study chemistry, the course was more important than the university. While he has good enough A-levels to apply to "a more prestigious university," he has chos en Greenwich because it's local for him and, so he has heard, classes are smaller and teaching is excellent. "Twenty or 30 years ago, if you had a degree it was really something. Nowadays having a degree is practically as common as having GCSEs, so the institution you study at is becoming less relevant. You really need a 2:1 or a first in a useful subject."

At 3pm, call centre staff report a lot of "panic phoning" , with students unable to access confirmation of offers on the Ucas website (which has, apparently, crashed again) ringing in for reassurance.

I catch up with Woodhams again at 8pm, just as the phone lines are closing. Ucas released clearing reference numbers earlier than advised, which meant that the 5pm "surge" she was concerned about did not happen. It's been a busy day, with 6,851 calls to the clearing hotline , considerably up on the 5,100 received last year.

Janet Murray

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08/23/2010 The battle for Bayreuth

Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner is taking on the purists at opera's most exclusive festival â€" and trying to exorcise its Nazi past

Wotan, father of the gods, has just kissed his daughter, Brünnhilde, to sleep and left her to burn alive. Katharina Wagner raises her eyebrows as she smacks her lips around an ice-cream, and looks on in satisfaction at the sea of 20,000 people who have gathered on Bayreuth's carnival ground to watch a live transmission of The Valkyrie on a huge screen. "I think we've pulled it off," she says.

Dressed in jeans and polo shirt, the attire of the co-chief of Germany's Bayreuth festival could hardly be in starker contrast to that of the high society event's standard dress code. But then Wagner neither looks nor behaves as you might imagine the head of one of the world's most talked-about cultural institutions to, or even the great-granddaughter of composer Richard Wagner.

On the so-called Green Hill, her half-sister and fellow festival head Eva Pasquier-Wagner has donned a ballgown to attend the live version of Tankred Dorst's production, and the 2,000 opera-goers who spill out of the Festspielhaus following the six-hour marathon, for which they have paid an average of €200 (£163) a ticket, are dressed in the usual Bayreuth garb of dinner jackets, gowns, the odd dirndl, as well as more eccentric get-ups, such as a mermaid costume.

It is clear that Wagner feels more at home here at the public viewing â€" one of the innovations that has characterised her young tenure so far and with which she has taken on the powerful Bayreuth establishment â€" than on the hill, hobnobbing with the great and good. "The people are down to earth here. I feel at home," says the 32-year-old in her characteristic deep, gravelly voice (she was once asked by a taxi driver if she did voice-overs for porn movies). "I hope very much that the public viewing will be seen as my contribution to the festival, as an attempt to make it less stuffy, and elite, more open and transparent."

This is no mean goal. Bayreuth is one of the most conservative festivals in the world, for which you can wait 10 years to secure a ticket: this year, for the 54,000 tickets there were 408,000 applications from more than 80 countries. The festival is seen by legions of fans as a sacred shrine to Richard Wagner, who set it up to showcase his works 134 years ago. These Wagnerians are deeply divided over Katharina, who after a long family battle (but with the staunch backing of her father Wolfgang, who himself reigned on the Green Hill for 50 years) took over the helm last summer together with Eva, 33 years her senior. "The feeling of Wagnerians towards her oscillates between holy veneration and calling for a witch hunt," says Die Welt's cultural commentator, Lucas Wiegelmann.

This is the first time the sisters have been completely on their own, following the death of their father in March. Poignantly, his seat in the Festspielhaus, where he watched no fewer than 1,300 performances, has been cordoned off out of respect. "I feel Dad's absence in every nook and cranny of Bayreuth," says Katharina. "But he's also constantly there with me, whispering in my ear, 'You're doing a good job, girl.'"

The sense that a new era has begun is palpable. At the free public viewing, locals â€" 70% of whom admitted in a recent survey they had never seen a Wagner opera â€" are invited to watch high culture while devouring sausages, beer and pretzels. There is also a kinder opera, now in its second year, in which a Wagner work â€" this year it was Tannhäuser â€" is condensed to a more digestible and child-friendly format.

The sisters have tried to shift the power away from the traditionalists by setting up a new team of "active festival patrons" to encourage more transparency and artistic freedom, and less bureaucracy. The move is risky, as the traditionalists, who make up the Society of the Friends of Bayreuth, control much of the festival's funding.

"I don't want Wagner just to be for people who have a lot of money," says Katharina. "It should be for everyone. When I'm told I'm killing the myth due to my podcasts, live streams, or television transmissions, I'm really sorry, but the myth is the work itself. Nothing can destroy that. The myth is Richard. End of story."

The festival has had a troubled history. Thanks to Hitler's love of Wagner and his close friendship with then-director Winifred Wagner (the Welsh-born wife of Siegfried, and Wolfgang's mother), the festival enjoyed a fair amount of artistic independence under the Third Reich. It is also rumoured that Winifred and Hitler, whom she called Wolf, were lovers. So another of Katharina's initiatives has been the setting up of an independent historical commission to investigate the unanswered questions about the festival's Nazi connections.

"I, for one, am personally interested about the extent to which the family was involved [with the party] on an individual basis," she says. "I want to find out more about my grandmother's fascination for this man, which lasted right up until the end of her life. But was she his lover? I don't know, I wasn't in the bedroom."

Katharina was prepared for this role from an early age. "At one point when I was about 20, my father asked me whether I could imagine taking on the job. I said yes. I could imagine it, but it wasn't like I absolutely had to do it." She studied theatre in Berlin, and staged her first opera, Die Meistersinger, at Bayreuth in 2007. The production was booed for some of its more outlandish features (statues of Beethoven and Mozart boasting erect plastic penises, for instance) by many of the die-hards â€" one even threw a cushion at her. But it convinced her father that Katharina was capable of assuming the role.

Turning up last weekend to introduce her pet project, the children's opera, her long glittery nails and large diamante hoop earrings flashing in the sun, Katharina passionately outlines her mission to win a new generation of Wagner enthusiasts. "It's our duty to the world of opera. We have to be actively recruiting new opera lovers as it's no good if they have to wait for 10 years for tickets," she says. "And after all, Richard was all for making the festival more accessible."

At the entrance, a group of self-confessed hardcore fans who fell in to a survey opera for himself to deliver a guilty verdict. "Patronising and denying to Wagner," says one. "Let the people of Wagner's full or not at all."

It's at moments like these, says Katharina, that she feels like getting in her car and escaping the claustrophobic confines of Bayreuth â€" which has been described outside festival time as having half the number of inhabitants of New York's main cemetery, but being twice as dead â€" to the openness and freedom of her beloved Berlin.

Tellingly, her favourite place during the five-week festival is a motorway service station cafe on the outskirts of Bayreuth, which overlooks the autobahn to Berlin â€" and where it is highly unlikely she will be discovered by a Wagner fan. "I love sitting here drinking a coffee," she says, "and dreaming of escape."

with the singer 'perspective: Andrew Shore, Albert, in the current Ring of the Nibelungs

Every night before I go on stage I have a sense of how special is it to be at Bayreuth and how privileged I am to be part of this tradition. Acoustically, it's pretty much the ideal theatre to sing in. You never feel you are battling against a loud orchestra, and can use the full dynamics of your range and explore vocal colours, while at epic moments, you can also really let rip. There's lots more to Alberich than bombast and the big nasty moments: here, I can explore the part's subtlety and lyricism.

The audience don't actually see the orchestra or the conductor. A hood covers the pit, and it feels as if the music is coming up from a soundbox under the stage. This makes for a wonderful atmosphere, especially at the beginning of Rheingold â€" the music emerges almost imperceptibly out of the darkness. It's a perfect way to experience it â€" you can see exactly what Wagner had in mind. But that's part of the specialness of the place â€" the musicianship, which is of a supremely high level. On the other hand, the fact that it's Bayreuth is not necessarily a guarantee of a consistent level of quality of production and design. I came here five years ago anticipating that I would be confronted with something really challenging and exciting, so it was a bit of a letdown to find myself part of Tankred Dorst's current Ring Cycle, which tells the story in a straightforward and unadventurous manner. But whatever the production, the audiences are absolutely devoted and attentive, and reserve their judgments for the end. Which can be devastating â€" they're not afraid to express their opinions!

Bayreuth is a very pleasant town. I always describe it as a cross between Stroud and Harrogate. Some streets are named after the operas. That's quite amusing, but I'm not sure I'd want to live in Walküre street myself. Interview Imogen Tilden

Kate Connolly

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Greeny NEWS

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
06/26/2010 Why we must treat every Endromis versicolora like a Kentish Glory

Until we learn that all species are important â€" not just those with a catchy name â€" England's rate of extinction will remain woeful

The genesis of the Guardian's species naming competition was the recent news that more than two species a year in England are going extinct, and hundreds more are under threat â€" a picture of decline reflected around the world.

How does a country whose two biggest membership organisations are conservation groups, a nation of self-professed animal lovers that has a web of laws and spends millions of pounds a year protecting the natural world, still drive the once ubiquitous common eel to the margins of survival? Guardian commentator George Monbiot has suggested: "It seems to me that one of the handicaps conservationists suffer is that few of these species have common names. It is hard to persuade people to care about something they can't pronounce."

Natural England, the government's countryside agency and authors of the gloomy report on the state of England's natural world, has now joined the Guardian and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to launch a competition asking the public to choose common names for 10 "lesser-known Latins" which until now have struggled for public recognition with only their scientific nomenclature to identify them.

The 10 beetles, bee, jellyfish, shrimps and lichens are all on the UK's list of 943 "species of principle concern", alongside more famous co-strugglers like the red squirrel and the grey plover.

"The things we value most are the things we connect with through our everyday lives and everyday language," says Tom Tew, Natural England's chief scientist. "We want to remind people of the importance of all species, because each of them has a role to play in sustaining the health of the ecosystems upon which we depend."

The report of the Natural England Lost Life described a decline in plants, insects, birds and sea life in and around England that is familiar around the world. Although extinction is a natural part of life, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned that the rate of plants and animals dying off is now 100-1,000 times the "background rate" before humans, dubbing it "the sixth great extinction".

Some scientists warn against relying on limited fossil records for such comparisons, but that there has been a widespread loss is hard to dispute. The IUCN also estimates one third of all amphibians and fish, one in five mammals and one in eight birds are under threat.

Some of England's threatened species have caught the public's attention â€" pollinators like the shrill carder bumblebee, the grey plover and kittiwake, the common skate and the northern bluefin tuna. Others' plight have gone largely unremarked â€" a problem the naming competition hopes to address.

\\ "Research needs of the severity and stability in Latin names, but they can seem rather cold and clinical,", says George McGavin, an entomologist at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and one of the competition judges. "For most people a more memorable common name can fire the imagination. It's much easier to care about a moth called the Kentish Glory than Endromis versicolora, and who wouldn't want a Brindled Beauty rather than Lycia hirtaria in their garden? Even the Bedbug sounds a bit cosier than Cimex lectularius."

The history of common names appears to have begun with species which were useful to humans â€" things we ate (deer), or might eat us (wolves), says Tew. In the past two centuries scientists and collectors began cataloguing species for the sake of it, and giving them names which usually fell into three categories: their own name, where they were found (the Dartford warbler), or what they looked like (the lady slipper orchid). Other names have evolved more colloquially and imaginatively: the Armadillidium is also variously known as a woodlouse, gramfy-gravy, pill bug, roly-poly, monkey pea or cheesy bug.

But those that do not have popular names are just as deserving of human attention, being part of the complicated network of ecosystems that Tew likens to the importance of individual rivets in an airliner. "Each of those species has a function in nature, each of which we may not understand, but it's a risky business to assume [that] just because we haven't named them or heard of them, their passing will have no effect," he adds.

Juliette Jowit

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Greeny NEWS
08/10/2010 Premier League preview No13: Man Utd

The vacuum that existed when Wayne Rooney was absent last season is the chief cause for concern this time round

Guardian writers predict ': 3rd (NB: this is not necessarily Paul's prediction, but the average of our writers' tips)

"Last season" status: 2nd

Odds to win the league: 2-1

Manchester United have not just been remarkably consistent since they began scooping in titles under Sir Alex Ferguson, they have been as close to a constant force in English football as Liverpool were in their heyday. When you consider that United maintained their overall superiority in spite of Roman Abramovich pumping millions into Chelsea and Arsène Wenger turning Arsenal into the epitome of European elegance it may even be conceded that modern titles are harder to come by than in the days when Liverpool would finish ahead of runners-up such as Queens Park Rangers, Southampton and Watford, though naturally one would not wish to voice the opinion too loudly on Merseyside.

Why else would people now be talking of a third or fourthâ€'place finish for Ferguson's team, or even suggesting they could find themselves out of the Champions League placings by the end of the season? This time last year the same people were either tipping United for a fourth successive title or predicting they would give Chelsea a run for their money, the latter of which in the event turned out to be the case. This summer they added useful defensive cover to their squad in the form of Chris Smalling, and signed one of the most eye-catching strikers at the World Cup in Javier Hernández, yet still the feeling prevails that they are about to go backwards.

There are several seasons why. In terms of the title Chelsea have stopped going backwards and have a steady manager again. If Carlo Ancelotti can win the Double in his first season in England he can certainly supervise another strong league campaign, particularly with Michael Essien back. Essien in particular supplies exactly the sort of drive from midfield that United now lack, and Chelsea are so strong in the engine-room department that they could afford to let Michael Ballack and Deco leave this summer. United have capable midfielders in Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and the ageless Paul Scholes, though their ability to seize control and dictate the terms of a game was not always evident when it needed to be last season.

Antonio Valencia should be a better player for having a season at United under his belt, and Park Ji-sung will always make valuable contributions to offset his anonymous days, but Ferguson has never found a satisfactory replacement for Roy Keane â€" as a midfield influence, a fighter and a leader â€" and still gives the impression he would rather play Scholes and Ryan Giggs until their knees give out than contemplate the future without them. In fairness, this policy went to plan for most of last season. United's veterans were doing them proud right up until the moment Wayne Rooney became crocked, when it quickly became apparent that, if not quite a one-man team, the defending champions were heavily reliant on one particular marauding attacker to pose problems for opposing defences.

The vacuum that existed when Rooney was absent last season is the chief cause for concern this time round. It would be unfair to expect too much of the 22-year-old Hernández in his first season in English football, Michael Owen is not going to swing a title United's way despite his knack of winning the odd game, and Dimitar Berbatov, without wishing to reignite one of last season's most tiresome debates, is going to have to get among the goals to recover his manager's trust. Ferguson was full of praise for the Bulgarian after the Community Shield, but that was a pre-season stroll in the park. Berbatov was left on the bench for some of the biggest games last season and failed to make a case for himself when Rooney's injury gave him a chance.

As United will shortly have a 40-year-old goalkeeper in Edwin van der Sar, and a 31-year-old centre-half in Rio Ferdinand who increasingly is only a notional leader of the defence, they may well struggle anyway. But, just as with England, Rooney is the true touchstone. Wretched World Cup or not, United still have a striker capable of running riot, and very few of their rivals can say the same. It would not be the greatest surprise in the world to see Rooney start the domestic season in irresistible form. Should that happen, just about anything else could follow.

Paul Wilson

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07/23/2010 Shirley Sherrod's case exposes ugly media flaws | Lola Adesioye

Hasty dismissal Shirley Sherrod shows how easily we are manipulated by journalism '\\' is based on inaccuracies

When Shirley Sherrod spoke at an NAACP event and shared a 24-year-old story of overcoming her prejudices, little did she realise the same speech would come back to in a new, highly edited form, putting her at the centre of a national controversy, costing her a job at the department of agriculture and almost ruining her reputation.

Yet that is exactly what happened this week. Rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart, in cahoots with Fox News, went on a mission â€" which he claims was to reveal the "truth" about the NAACP â€" to cause controversy. He took a bite-sized clip from Sherrod's speech, tagged it with a headline accusing her of being a racist and released it to the world.

The clip showed Sherrod, who at the time was the director for rural development in Georgia, saying that she did not use the full force of her power to ensure that a white farmer got everything he needed. "Racist!" screamed the headlines. We now all know, of course, that the clip told only a fraction of the entire story. From the full video, it is clear that once Sherrod realised that her biases â€" which were connected to having lived and grown up in the South â€" had affected her job, she sought to overcome them. Once she had managed to do that, she was able to provide great support to the white farmers â€" who have publicly praised her helpfulness.

) and losing the trust of the public. Indeed, in recognition of the fact that controversy sells, scandals are increasingly being manufactured and manipulated by the rightwing media to push people out of jobs and to scare the government.

Sonia Sotomayor experienced similar treatment for its "wise Latina \\ "Comments. Fortunately for her, she got a place she wants. Others were not so lucky. Van Jones , for example, the government's former green tsar, went through the same thing and was eventually ousted. Outlets such as Fox News are becoming more and more political and are using their influence to shape and direct â€" often in the worst possible way â€" the political debate.

President Obama has called Shirley Sherrod to apologise. This is after Sherrod apparently received four calls from the White House earlier this week asking her to resign. While I understand that the White House wishes to protect itself and the president, its knee-jerk reactions have become farcical. This case is also a sad indictment on partisan politics and the nature of the political battle between right and left, which is being reduced to dirty tricks.

That the NAACP, itself supposed to be an organisation concerned with equality, was so fast to denounce Sherrod as "shameful" is another surprising twist â€" it also had to backtrack once the full video was made available. Rather than taking responsibility for not using due diligence and checking the facts, the NAACP said it had been "snookered" by Breitbart and Fox News. The truth is, the NAACP was not "snookered"; it simply failed to act in a professional manner.

Both the NAACP and the White House's reactions also reveal sensitivities to race-related discussions in this so-called "age of Obama", particularly since it has been suggested â€" again by rightwing commentators â€" that the president favours black people and minorities over white people. The national conversation about race is becoming skewed by rightwing scandals and by inappropriate responses from the other side. This is deeply unhelpful.

Shirley Sherrod has been offered another job at the USDA. She may decline. In the meantime, the government and the country as a whole must use this as a teachable momentand reflect on the nature of the media and politics. One thing is for sure: while we allow ourselves to be so easily manipulated, those with an agenda will continue to exert their control.

Lola Adesioye

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Greeny NEWS

Monday, August 23, 2010
07/01/2010 BP petrol station franchisees in US attract abuse over oil spill

Americans are taking their anger over the Deepwater Horizon spill out on the staff of petrol stations bearing the BP logo

The distinctive green sunflower logos on petrol pumps are becoming a liability. Franchisees at BP fuel stations across the US are anxious to distance themselves from the British oil multinational as the Deepwater Horizon spill sparks vandalism, a drop in trade and occasional "hate" from customers.

Although the situation is highly variable, anecdotal reports from the 12,000 BP-branded service stations on American highways are of patchy falls in business of 10% to 20% since oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's ruptured Macondo oil well a mile beneath the ocean off Louisiana.

A consumer group, Public Citizen, is calling for a three-month consumer boycott. BP logos have been smeared with mud in New York. One BP petrol station in Mississippi has even had gunshots fired through its windows in the middle of the night, in an apparent protest without any attempt at a robbery.

In New York City neighborhood of Bushwick, sandy, Raja Bindra, head of a filling station, said he had his share of abuse from the oil birds and archives have begun washing up on beaches USA: "People come in and say" What the fuck are you doing working here? 'They are the ones who have no knowledge. those who understand that 'is, they don' t talk about it. "

Bindra tries to explain to customers that his petrol station is a local business that simply has a contract to buy petrol from BP, and that he is not an employee of the British company: "We try to tell them that BP is not us. We are a franchisee."

More than 90% of the BP petrol stations in the U.S., regardless of ownership, but are tied to long-term contract requiring them to sell BP fuel. The oil company has created its extensive network of U.S. retail when he bought Standard Oil of Ohio in 1987, then merged with Amoco in 1998.

Alert to the difficulties faced by retailers since the spill erupted two months ago, BP has offered them forecourt signs declaring that they are "locally owned and operated". A BP spokesman said the company was working on a package of financial measures including cuts to credit card fees levied on retailers by BP and an increase in bonus awards for meeting sales targets.

Some are loyal to the company. Mark Sapozhnikov, the owner of a New York petrol station that had brown paint daubed all over its BP sign, said: "I feel bad for that guy Tony Hayward."

Sapozhnikov said he had always had "excellent" service from BP. He added: "I've got a customer base that understands I'm not the one who caused the spill."

Industry experts point out that fuel purchased at BP service stations does not necessarily contain oil from BP wells. The crude extracted by oil corporations is intermingled at refineries and by the time it reaches the pump, it is indistinguishable by origin. The only variable factor between BP, Exxon, Shell or Chevron petrol is a detergent package, unique to each brand, that is added at distribution terminals to inhibit corrosion and ensure chemical stability.

"There's really no way anybody who sells gas can say with any assurance where that gas is coming from," said Jeff Lennard, a spokesman for the US National Association of Convenience Stores, which represents fuel retailers.

A boycott at the pump is unlikely to hurt BP's finances significantly â€" only a small part of BP's $246bn (£164bn) in annual revenue is from US petrol stations. There is no lack of demand and oil can be rerouted, if necessary, to industry or other parts of the world.

Still, the activist group Public Citizen said it was disingenuous for petrol stations to downplay their ties with BP. Its president, Robert Weissman, said the company needed to be punished for "reckless and egregious conduct" alleged to have caused April's explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

"BP's franchisees enter into agreements with BP because they want to benefit from an attachment to the BP brand," said Weissman. "If consumers are told they can't take action against wrongdoers like BP, that's an immunity for large corporations from the consequences of their actions."

On Facebook, more than 733,000 people have signed up to 'boycott of BP "page. But BP gas station in New York, many drivers were optimistic choice of the petrol station.

"Gas is gas, to be honest," said Hector Gonzalez, a sailor in the US navy, who said he did not condone BP's conduct. "They should have had a system in place where they could see this coming. In the military, we've got to plan, plan, plan â€" we've got to have a plan for a plan."

Nancy Lopez, a prison officer about to fill up her tank at a BP petrol station in Williamsburg, admitted she had "reservations" about choosing BP and after being interviewed by the Guardian, she chose to go elsewhere to buy petrol.

\\ "Much has been done as it should be in the Persian Gulf," said Lopez. "I do not 't think I should buy gas here." "

Andrew Clark

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Sunday, August 22, 2010
06/25/2010 London pollution 'worst in Europe'

Britain faces court cases and unlimited fines after dangerous levels of minute particles breach EU levels

• Comment: London, the dirty man of Europe
• Dave Hill: Where's Boris Johnson's air pollution study?

The City of London has been found to be one of the most polluted places in Europe after monitoring equipment recordeddangerous levels of fine particles in the 36 th time this year. Under EU rules, Britain allowed no more than 35 "bad air days throughout the year, and now there is litigation and an unlimited fine in Europe.

The breaching of the EU levels after just six months will embarrass the government, which was sent a final warning only three weeks ago from the European commission to improve air quality. Many other places in central London are close to the limit and can be expected to break the law within weeks.

The Government shall apply to Europe for a time extension until 2011 to carry out daily particulate pollution from traffic, but not sure, will be granted because it was the neglect of the EU air quality laws in 2005, and perceived environment commissioner Janez Potocnik to have done little to address the problem.

"Air pollution is bad for our health. It reduces human life expectancy by more than eight months on average and by more than two years in the most polluted cities and regions," he said.

London Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford said: "This latest breach is yet another wake-up call for the mayor of London and the government. Research has shown that airborne pollution in London could be responsible for up to thousands of premature deaths a year: this is an invisible public health emergency."

Poor air quality is now considered one of the biggest public health problems currently faced in the UK. A recent report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee included evidence that air pollution could be contributing to 50,000 deaths in the UK a year. A study (pdf) commissioned by Boris Johnson, mayor of London, calculated that more than 4,300 deaths are caused by poor air quality in the city every year, costing around £2bn a year.

Simon Birkett, founder of the Campaign for Clean Air in London, Said: "From the first of many sites London violation of the statutory period until the end of June, it became evident why the European Commission sent to the UK the second and final written warning for violating the same law, each year since 2005 in London, less than a month ago, ".

Jenny Bates, London fought for the "Friends of the Earth , said: "Boris Johnson must abandon plans that will make the situation worse, such as scrapping the western extension to the congestion charge, pursuing more river crossings for vehicles and supporting a 50% increase in flights from City airport. This means taking strong action himself, rather than relying on uncommitted government measures to do the job."

A spokesperson for Johnson said: "This is one of several central London locations which will receive a targeted package of measures to tackle pollution, for example applying dust suppressants to road surfaces and deploying the cleanest buses into these areas. Other initiatives include proposed age limits for taxis, converting the bus fleet to hybrid and investing record levels into cycling.

\\ "We also proposed that dirty trucks and vans in London low emission zone in early January 2012. The new bus for London is 40% less polluting than conventional diesel and we are spending millions to support the main use of zero-clean electric cars."

The representative of Defra said: "The Mayor of London and the regions are responsible for local air quality in London. The mayor has issued a draft air quality strategy, which includes specific measures to reduce PM10 and NO2 pollution.

"We are confident that PM10 limits will be met in London by the 2011 deadline and the government has submitted evidence to the European commission to demonstrate this."

John Vidal

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