Foreign Affairs

ISIS – Guardian Report on what’s it all about. – Interesting read. I have no idea how true it is.

In the summer of 2004, a young jihadist in shackles and chains was walked by his captors slowly into the Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq. He was nervous as two American soldiers led him through three brightly-lit buildings and then a maze of wire corridors, into an open yard, where men with middle-distance stares, wearing brightly-coloured prison uniforms, stood back warily, watching him.

“I knew some of them straight away,” he told me last month. “I had feared Bucca all the way down on the plane. But when I got there, it was much better than I thought. In every way.”

The jihadist, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed, entered Camp Bucca as a young man a decade ago, and is now a senior official within Islamic State (Isis) – having risen through its ranks with many of the men who served time alongside him in prison. Like him, the other detainees had been snatched by US soldiers from Iraq’s towns and cities and flown to a place that had already become infamous: a foreboding desert fortress that would shape the legacy of the US presence in Iraq.

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Tories plan new attack on windfarms

David Cameron considers 2015 manifesto commitment to curb onshore turbines, but Nick Clegg says Lib Dems will block it from coalition programme

David Cameron And Nick Clegg

David Cameron is considering a 2015 manifesto pledge to limit onshore windfarms, a move opposed by Nick Clegg. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

David Cameron is considering whether to go into the general election promising new restrictions on onshore windfarms as influential Tories launch an attempt to rid the countryside of turbines, a senior source close to the prime minister said.

The Conservative source indicated that Cameron is “of one mind” with some of the loudest opponents of onshore windfarms and wants to “go further” in cutting financial aid for them.

The source suggested that this might be done through a cap on the onshore turbines’ output, lower subsidies or tighter planning restrictions.

Despite the government’s official public backing for onshore wind, the senior Tory said Cameron was coming under pressure to make a manifesto commitment on wind energy from some within his party.

Critics not only want controls on the number of new turbines being built but to begin dismantling existing ones they see as a “blot on the countryside”.

Although the coalition has already set out cuts to financial support for windfarms and given communities greater rights to veto developments, Downing Street plans for further curbs are already under way. It is understood that Cameron and George Osborne proposed a cap on the electricity output of onshore wind farms to Nick Clegg just over a week ago, meaning no more would be built beyond existing ones and those already granted permission.

The idea of an effective moratorium on more onshore wind – first reported by the BBC – was rejected by the Lib Dems. But the source’s comments show the prime minister is considering whether to go further with a manifesto commitment to cap or dismantle some onshore windfarms.

This would allow the Tories to go into next year’s election claiming the Lib Dems have blocked their efforts to restrict turbines and make a pitch to core Tory voters about cutting back support for windfarms if they win.

The move was confirmed by a Lib Dem aide, who said Tory claims to be green were “already a lame duck and are now dead in the water”. Clegg told Cameron he was perfectly free to put the idea of greater curbs on windfarms in the next Conservative manifesto but it would absolutely not be sanctioned under the coalition, the source said.

“Nick Clegg was simply not going to allow the Tories to move the goalposts on green energy again,” the source added. “Some sort of crude block towards onshore wind would seriously damage investor confidence in Britain’s energy markets. It would be a double whammy – bad for both British business and for the environment.

“The Liberal Democrats believe in a mixed, diverse green energy future. Capping onshore wind production would leave investors questioning our long term commitment to all renewable energy sources. This would be catastrophic for our growing green economy and the hundreds of thousands of British jobs in it.”

There are more than 4,000 onshore wind turbines generating almost 5% of all of electricity, and 3,000 more have planning approval. As well as restricting any more turbines beyond these, the senior Tory source said other options were further cuts to subsidies aimed at making it more economically difficult for current windfarms to operate and extra controls on planning permission.

The green industry reacted with dismay to the news that the Conservatives are planning a new assault on onshore wind. Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, the industry lobby group, said the row risked harming investment across the energy sector. “Onshore wind is the cheapest mainstream renewable technology, and will be cheaper than new nuclear,” he said. “Rumours like this make the UK look a less secure place to invest.”

In public, the government claims it supports onshore wind energy as long as communities have more power of veto over unwanted developments.

Asked about whether Cameron proposed a cap on onshore output when meeting Clegg, the prime minister’s spokesman refused to answer the question four times. He told reporters: “[Cameron and Clegg] meet very regularly and I don’t go into the details of what they discuss. We want local communities to have a greater say in the planning decisions with regards to onshore windfarms and changes were made in recent months to strengthen local communities’ involvement in those decisions.”

The latest row comes months after the government agreed that subsidies for onshore turbines would be cut by 5% a year after 2015 under a deal reached by the coalition partners. In 2012, support for onshore wind was cut by 10% after the prime minister came under pressure from more than 100 backbench MPs, who wrote to him demanding action against windfarms spoiling the landscape in rural areas.

The government also announced extra planning restrictions, with Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, promising to “give local communities a greater say” on where windfarms were built. Surveys consistently show public support for windfarms and green energy, even among Tory and Ukip voters.

But Cameron remains under pressure from backbenchers to reduce support for onshore windfarms over planning concerns and the level of subsidies on household bills. In November, the Sun and the Daily Mail said he ordered aides to “get rid of all the green crap” from energy bills to bring down costs. According to the reports, Cameron used the direct language to dismiss green levies, which go towards paying for renewables and helping poor people cut energy use. At the time, No 10 denied the report, saying it did not recognise the language when asked about the phrase “green crap”. However, officials did not appear to deny the sentiment, pointing out that the PM has repeatedly promised to roll back green taxes.

The coalition has now scrapped environmental levies amounting to £50 a year per household if the cuts are passed on by energy companies. There are fears within the green industry that the government will come under further pressure to cut environmental levies to pay for energy efficiency and low-carbon power.

Note to presenters who just don’t get it!

Piers Morgan tries to look on the bright side after CNN chat show axed
Observers say Morgan, who succeeded Larry King, paid price for his style, his views on gun control

Piers Morgan tries to look on the bright side after CNN chat show axed

Piers Morgan’s viewing figures for his primetime CNN show had dropped below 300,000. Photograph: EPA

He is fond of telling people: “One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next you’re the feather duster.” Now Piers Morgan is about to enter another feather duster phase of his career after his primetime US chatshow was axed by CNN.

The former editor of the Daily Mirror, who alienated some of his US audience with his outspoken calls for gun control, was dropped by the news network after his ratings fell as low as 270,000 viewers.

Morgan appeared sanguine about the decision as his exit became public, taking to Twitter to post a link to Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Hired by a previous regime at CNN, Morgan, 48, was a surprise choice when he was anointed in late 2010 to succeed legendary US interviewer Larry King, who presented the slot for a quarter of a century.

Morgan had previously been known to US TV viewers for appearances on Americas’s Got Talent and the celebrity version of The Apprentice, both on NBC, but as a news interviewer he was an unknown.

Simon Marks, the founder of Washington-based news agency Feature Story News, who previously ran the News Hour programme on US public service network PBS, said: “To be fair to Piers Morgan, CNN should never have hired him for this job, everyone knew it from day one.”

Marks said the show had gone from being “presented by one of the most iconic figures in American TV and radio” to being presented by someone unknown to many in the US.

Marks added: “He didn’t reinvent himself for the purposes of American TV, he brought the same kind of argument and conversation you would hear in a London wine bar; it just doesn’t work like that.”

Far from winning over sceptical Americans, Morgan alienated viewers with his calls for stringent gun controls following the December 2012 killings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition calling for Morgan to be deported over the issue, with one of its organisers, Alex Jones, warning him after a shouting match on his show: “Don’t try what your ancestors did before.”

Morgan admitted that ratings for his show had “taken a bath”, falling below 300,000 from an early high of 2 million.

“I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarising, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he told the New York Times at the weekend.

Robin Lustig, the former presenter of Radio 4’s The World Tonight who has broadcast extensively in the US, from where he anchored three presidential elections for the World Service, said: “I suspect most people in America don’t take kindly to foreigners telling them what’s wrong with them. I’m not sure he was the most empathetic of TV hosts, and my suspicion is he gave people the impression he didn’t much like America. That was probably the biggest mistake. Alistair Cooke and David Frost, they both made it clear they loved the country. They even began to sound half-American.”

It is 10 years since Morgan was sacked by the Mirror for running fake pictures of British soldiers “abusing” Iraqi prisoners, and he has shown a capacity for bouncing back. Married to Daily Telegraph columnist Celia Walden, he still has his ITV chatshow, Life Stories, with the date of the final edition of Piers Morgan Live is yet to be decided. His contract with CNN runs out in September.

Morgan became the News of the World’s editor aged just 29, before becoming Daily Mirror editor in 1996. He was questioned in November last year under caution by detectives investigating phone hacking. A CNN spokeswoman said the interview by police was not a factor in his dismissal. Morgan has always denied any involvement in phone hacking.

Morgan can console himself that, While many British news executives have made it big behind the scenes – former BBC director general Mark Thompson at the New York Times, former ITV News chief Deborah Turness at NBC – , few “Brits abroad” have succeeded as presenters of US television news shows.

“The problem for British journalists working in America is that American journalists take themselves very seriously, to the point of pomposity,” said Stephen Claypole, a former senior BBC News and TV news agency executive who is now chairman of consultancy, DMA Media.

“They are not at all knockabout in the way they do things. [Morgan] has always been a pretty bumptious character. That was part of his success at a very young age.”

Morgan’s troubles also reflected wider issues at CNN, which blazed a trail when it was founded by Ted Turner in 1980 but has found itself trailing in the ratings and struggled to establish an identity between its rivals – the rightwing Fox News and the liberal-leaning MSNBC.

Plus there were barriers Morgan could do little about. The New York Times writer David Carr wrote: “Old hands in the television news business suggest that there are two things a presenter cannot have: an accent or a beard.”

Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism at Cardiff University and a former director of the BBC World Service, said: “It’s revealing that for all this talk about global media and the rest of it, it’s his accent that was picked up as opposed to whether his interviews were any good.

“For middle America, it is a deeply cultural thing: these things do matter.”

For the moment it is his longstanding rival, Jeremy Clarkson, who has the upper hand. “I’m feeling strangely contented this morning,” tweeted the Top Gear presenteron Monday. “I wonder if something wonderful has happened somewhere … I understand that Nigerian TV is looking for a new chatshow host. Anyone got any suggestions?”

Morgan himself claimed to have noticed some schadenfreude, tweeting later: “Amusing @BBCNews coverage of my CNN show ending just now. Thought the reporter was actually going to burst out laughing with glee.”

Kiev Ukraine

The killings in the street war underline just how important the EU is as a bulwark against European madness.

Putin and co are still very dangerous in Europe

Fintan O’Toole – Smart-ass in chief. Does he want to shut off all money and screw the poor and those dependent on the state into submission?

Ireland’s rebound is European blarney

In a column written for the New York Times, Fintan O’Toole argues that Ireland is suffering to maintain an unreal image of slimmed-down perfection

Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 15:18

I was talking just before Christmas to a young man who sells shoes in a department store in Dublin. He told me that a television news crew had filmed interviews in the store the previous day.

They wanted to know if sales were picking up during the vital holiday period, indicating that the battered Irish economy was, after five grim years, on the rise at last.

Most of his colleagues said that, actually, sales were rather sluggish. One was more hopeful and said that there were signs of improvement. When the young man watched the TV news that night, he was not entirely surprised to find that the only interview that had made the cut was the one with the optimist.

Everyone wants Ireland to be a good-news story, proof that a willingness to take the pain of prolonged austerity will be rewarded in the end. Ordinary citizens are hungry for some hope. The government, in the words of Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, was “determined that Ireland would be Europe’s success story”.

An influential board member of the European Central Bank, Jörg Asmussen, says: “The Irish program is a success story.” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germanypraised Ireland as an example of how crisis countries could turn themselves around.

The only problem is that, for most of us who actually live here, Ireland’s success story feels less like “The Shawshank Redemption” and more like “Rocky.” We haven’t been joyously liberated; we’ve just withstood a lot of blows. We’re still standing, but we’ve taken so many punches that it’s hard to see straight.

Yes, things are finally looking up, but the hopeful vision is clouded by two nagging questions. Did they need to be so bleak for so long? And has the harsh medicine actually cured Ireland’s ills?

For conservatives, in particular, Ireland is the Tyra Banks of nations: a model country. The only problem is that they can’t quite decide what Ireland is a model of.

For a long time, when Ireland was booming, it was the perfect face of light regulation and low taxes. (With impeccably bad timing, Senator John McCain cited Ireland’s low corporate taxes as a model for the United States in his presidential election debates with Senator Barack Obama in 2008 – just as Ireland was sliding into crisis.) Now, with Ireland tentatively emerging from its long slump, it is being cited as the great exemplar of the virtues of austerity.

As the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, a fiscal hawk, put it in October: “Ireland did what Ireland had to do. And now everything is fine.” Ireland was a success story when it was partying wildly and it is a success story when it is the Grim Reaper of international economics. Binge or purge, we can do no wrong.

We Irish are eternal optimists, but Mr Schäuble’s belief that everything is fine is a rare example of a German outdoing us in irrational exuberance. It is certainly true that, if you were to walk around the rebuilt Dublin docklands, with their shiny European headquarter offices for Google, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo, and their slick cafes and hotels, you might conclude that if this is what an Irish crisis looks like, an Irish boom must be quite something to behold.

The supercool new Marker Hotel and apartment complex, which opened its doors in April and cost €120 million ($163 million), could be in Los Angeles or Dubai. It looks down on the buoyant American architecture of Martha Schwartz’s Grand Canal Square and a plush Daniel Libeskind theater. In a country wrecked by a spectacular property bubble, house prices in Dublin have begun to soar again, rising 13 percent in the last year.

But Ireland has two economies: a global one dominated by American high-tech companies, and a domestic one in which most Irish workers have to make their living. The first is indeed booming. Not least because of those low corporate taxes, large global corporations find Dublin convivial for reasons other than its pubs and night life. The sheer scale of Ireland’s dependence on this kind of investment for its exports can be judged by the fact that Irish gross domestic product took a serious hit in 2013 when Viagra (which is made by Pfizer in County Cork) went off patent in Europe. Broadly speaking, however, the global side of the Irish economy has remained robust.

But home is where the heartache is: in the domestic economy outside the gated community of high-tech multinationals. Outside Dublin, property prices are still falling. Wages for most workers have dropped sharply. Unemployment remains very high at 12.8 per cent – and that figure would be higher if not for emigration. There’s always been a simple way to measure how well Ireland is doing: Go to the ports and airports after the Christmas vacation and count the young people waving goodbye to their parents as they head off to the United States, Canada, Australia or Britain, where they have gone to find work and opportunity.

Other people protest in bad times; the Irish leave. And they’ve been doing so in numbers that haven’t been recorded since the 1980s. Nearly 90,000 people emigrated between April 2012 and April 2013 and close to 400,000 have left since the 2008 crisis. For a country with a population about the size of Kentucky’s (about 4.5 million), that’s a lot of people.

There’s no great mystery about why they’re going: They don’t believe in the success story. A major study by University College Cork found that most of the emigrants are graduates and that almost half of them left full-time jobs in Ireland to go abroad. These are not desperate refugees; they’re bright young people who have lost faith in the idea that Ireland can give them the opportunities they want. They just don’t buy into the narrative of a triumphant rebound.

When the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank – the so-called troika – took over Ireland’s fiscal governance in December 2010, they somehow convinced themselves that sharp cuts in public spending and reductions in wages would go hand in hand with economic growth. The IMF, for example, told us that the Irish economy would grow by 5.25 percent between 2011 and 2013. In fact, it grew at around half that rate.

Common sense would have suggested that in an economy in which private investment had dried up (Irish investment rates are now about half the average for the euro zone), there might be a problem with slashing public investment as well. After five years of austerity, it is shocking but hardly surprising that one in four Irish children are growing up in households in which no one at all is in paid employment.

Nor is it surprising that the departure of the troika at the end of 2013 and some modest signs of economic recovery have not been greeted by Riverdancing on the rooftops. Irish people were prepared to take some punishment; there’s enough Catholic guilt still around for a story of sin and atonement to have considerable psychological purchase. People do look back ruefully on the Celtic Tiger years and admit that we deserved a whipping for thinking we could get rich by selling one another million-dollar houses. But they are not convinced that the cruel scale of the punishment was necessary or that the nasty medicine has, in fact, worked.

Behind both of these propositions looms the great contradiction in the supposed success story of Irish austerity. It was austerity only for citizens.

Running parallel to all the cuts in public spending and all the calls for fiscal responsibility has been a program of spending so lavish that it makes a drunken sailor look stingy. One part of the troika program was to cut wages, welfare, health care and education. The other was to insist that Ireland continue to put vast resources into its teetering banks, including the notorious, now liquidated, Anglo Irish Bank.

The policy of No Bondholder Left Behind, on which the European Central Bank insisted, has been staggeringly expensive. To put it in perspective, the European Union has just agreed to create a fund of $75 billion to deal with all future banking crises in its member states. Tiny Ireland has spent $85 billion bailing out its own banks.

Particularly galling to most Irish people is that there is now an almost casual admission that this was a pretty crazy idea. Olli Rehn, the European Union’s economic affairs commissioner and one of the chief architects of Irish strategy since the crash, now says, “In retrospect, I think it is quite easy to spot some mistakes like the blanket guarantee for banks.” This admission, though, does not imply any change of policy. “But that is now water under the bridge,” he went on to say, “and now we have redirected the river.” Ireland, Mr Rehn reassured us, is in “a better place for the moment.”

But the river has not been redirected: A torrent of debt continues to flow from the catastrophic decision to save bad banks at all costs. Hopes that Ireland’s debts might be alleviated by its European partners in recognition of the country’s role in saving the euro are now fading.

Little Ireland took one for the team. In return, it gets a pat on the head and the dubious pleasure of being called a success story.

This is why, in the end, the austerity program has not succeeded even in its basic aim of bringing down Ireland’s sovereign debt, which actually rose sharply over the last five years. In 2009, it was 64 per cent of GDP. Last year, it peaked at 125 per cent. The debt has doubled while public spending has been slashed.

In this, Ireland may be a model indeed: suffering to maintain an unreal image of slimmed-down perfection.

Immigrants should be as welcome as oil or gold

Most of the available evidence suggests that immigration brings net economic benefits


Japan allows virtually no immigration at all. The single most effective growth-boosting strategy would be to open up to more immigration. AP Photo/Katsumi Kasahara/AP Photo


First published: Fri, Jan 10, 2014, 01:00

If demography is destiny, we pay far too little attention to it. There are so many other fun things to look at, stuff that makes headlines and has, supposedly, a much more dramatic and immediate impact on our daily lives. But some of the mega trends involving shifts in the composition of populations are likely to prove far more important than whether or not the European Central Bank finally indulges in quantitative easing.

The US is becoming a truly multi-racial society, one that involves the beginning of the end of the numerical dominance of white Europeans. And with that shift will come cultural and political changes. And these will have economic consequences.

Make no mistake, whites still dominate politics: at the most recent presidential election they comprised 73.7 per cent of eligible voters. But that is down from 79.2 per cent in only eight years.

And it will fall further before the next election (and beyond): over 40 per cent of current 15- to 18-year-old Americans are non-white. One small example of the gradual shift away from European roots can be seen in the recent appointment of America’s first ethnically Hmong judge, Paul Lo; he replaced Hugh Flanagan.

It is not just Tea Party extremism that is driving (some) people away from the Republican Party. Some analysts think that we are about to witness a long slow demise of a party that is struggling to get to grips with the changing ethnic composition of the electorate. The core of the “Grand Old Party” is, on this analysis at least, becoming ever more reactionary, stuck with white, western European values and cultural norms that are slowly dying.

Just as earlier immigration, mostly from Europe, transformed America, so are the flows of people from Asia and Latin America radically reshaping the US today. It is chaotic, unpredictable in its consequences and scares some of the incumbents to death. Hence the ongoing battles over immigration reform.

Most of the available evidence suggests that immigration brings net economic benefits. But there are winners and losers – with the latter always shouting the loudest. Population increase brings growth, simply by arithmetic. It is often more than that: immigrants typically come to work, not claim benefits. New workers can be unskilled and do jobs others don’t want. The arguments are usually about worker displacement: immigrants taking the place of others at much lower wages. The evidence is that this does happen but on a much smaller scale than is often claimed.

Immigrants are often highly skilled and entrepreneurial. They help to raise productivity growth and create jobs. US corporations regularly complain that not enough visas for these kinds of people are being issued.

Britain is undergoing a similar transformation. London now has a minority of white, UK-born citizens. The modern debate over UK immigration dates back to Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968. Powell said many contentious things but was right on at least one of them: continued immigration would produce wrenching change. It is surprising how few people are prepared to say the changes have been mostly for the better.

Japan, by contrast, allows virtually no immigration at all. Current macroeconomic policies are displaying some signs of rationality but the single most effective growth-boosting strategy (as opposed to tactic) would be to open up to more immigration. China faces its own demographic challenges, hence the recent change to its one-child policy. Without increased immigration, Germany’s population is set for decline. Other countries are in a similar position. Debt-laden nations need growing, not shrinking populations.

A good barometer of how well we are doing, how attractive we are, is how many people from around the world want to join us. People, particularly skilled ones, are becoming scarce. We should be as welcoming to immigrants as we would be to a discovery of oil or gold.

New York Times on Health Services for the poor in Republican controlled states.

A Population Betrayed

Published: October 3, 2013 704 Comments

It is outrageous that millions of the poorest people in the country will be denied health insurance because of decisions made mostly by Republican governors and legislators. These people will neither qualify for their state’s Medicaid program for the poor nor for subsidized coverage on new insurance exchanges that are being established in every state by the health care reform law.

 Their plight is a result of the Supreme Court’s decision last year that struck down the reform law’s mandatory expansion of Medicaid and made expansion optional. Every state in the Deep South except Arkansas has rejected expansion, as have Republican-led states elsewhere. These 26 states would rather turn down incredibly generous federal funds that would finance 100 percent of the expansion costs for three years and at least 90 percent thereafter than offer a helping hand to their most vulnerable residents.

As Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff reported in The Times on Thursday, two-thirds of the country’s poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers and more than half of the uninsured low-wage workers live in those states. The reform law originally sought to help poor and middle-income people through two parallel mechanisms. One was a mandatory expansion of Medicaid (which in most states cover primarily children and their parents with incomes well below the poverty level) to cover childless adults and to help people with income levels above the poverty line. Those with slightly higher incomes would be eligible for federal subsidies to buy private policies on the new insurance exchanges.

That approach fell apart when 26 states decided not to expand Medicaid, at least for now. There is no provision in the law to provide health insurance subsidies for anyone below the poverty line because those people are supposed to be covered by Medicaid.

The Times report, based on an analysis of census data, found that eight million Americans who are impoverished and uninsured will be ineligible for help of either kind. To add to the insanity, people whose incomes initially qualify them for subsidies on the exchanges could — if their income fell because they lost a job — end up with no coverage at all.

There are no easy solutions to the difficulties wrought by the Supreme Court decision and the callousness of state officials who seized on that opening to victimize the poor.

States like New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee that are still flirting with the idea of expansion should do the right thing and expand. States that have adamantly refused to expand should relent and take the generous federal funds. And if Congressional Republicans ever give up on their obsession to destroy the health reform law, Congress could surely find ways to make certain that the people most in need of help get it.

Pope Francis on women priests. Women should boycott the Catholic church.

In an impromptu press conference on July 28th last, aboard the papal plane on his return to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis said, “on the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and said no. Pope John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.”

Meanwhile the Jesuit America magazine has apologised for accidentally omitting an sentence from its translation (from the Italian) of Pope Francis’s comments on women in the 12,000 word interview published last week.

It has pointed out that when the Pope was asked ‘What should be the role of women in the church?”, he began his reply with, “’It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church.” This sentence, America said was left out of its English translation of the interview.

What the Pope actually said then was “‘It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of f ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role.”

He continued “The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

China ‘to rent five per cent of Ukraine’

Ukraine has agreed a deal with a Chinese firm to lease five per cent of its land to feed China’s burgeoning and increasingly demanding population, it has been reported.



Ukraine is rich in arable land Photo: ALAMY

By Alex Spillius, Diplomatic Correspondent

7:18PM BST 24 Sep 2013

It would be the biggest so called “land grab” agreement, where one country leases or sells land to another, in a trend that has been compared to the 19th century “scramble for Africa”, but which is now spreading to the vast and fertile plains of eastern Europe.

Under the 50-year plan, China would eventually control three million hectares, an area equivalent to Belgium or Massachusetts, which represents nine per cent of Ukraine’s arable land. Initially 100,000 hectares would be leased.

The farmland in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region would be cultivated principally for growing crops and raising pigs. The produce will be sold at preferential prices to Chinese state-owned conglomerates, said the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC), a quasi-military organisation also known as Bingtuan.

XPCC said on Tuesday that it had signed the £1.7 billion agreement in June with KSG Agro, Ukraine’s leading agricultural company. KSG Agro however denied reports that it had sold land to the Chinese, saying it had only reached agreement for the Chinese to modernise 3,000 hectares and “may in the future gradually expand to cover more areas”.

Any sort of “land-grab” deal can be highly sensitive politically. Madagascar was forced to scrap a plan to lease 1.2 million hectares to South Korea in 2009 after angry protests against “neo-colonialism”. The Philippines has also blocked a China investment deal.

“This reminds us of a colonial process even when there is no colonial link between the two countries involved,” said Christina Plank, co-author of a report by the Transnational Institute on “land-grabbing”.

With its current population of 1.36 billion predicted by the UN to rise to 1.4 billion by 2050, China is among the leading renter of overseas farmland in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, though the XPCC deal would make Ukraine China’s largest overseas farming centre.

China consumes about one-fifth of the world’s food supplies, but is home to just nine per cent of the world’s farmland, thanks in part to rapid industrialisation.

“As urbanisation speeds up, consumption has led to greater food demand and domestic grain prices have stayed above global prices,” Ding Li, a senior researcher in agriculture at Anbound Consulting in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post. “Therefore, China has been importing more and more grain.”

Apart from China, India, South Korea, the Gulf states and western European corporations began taking tracts of land, especially in Africa, after global food prices spiked in 2008.

XPCC however is making the first such major foray into continental Europe. It has a country that has the largest land area in the continent and was known as the “bread basket as the Soviet Union” but which has progressed slowly since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“The special thing about Ukraine is that there is so much land and so much food left, so there is not a danger of shortage. They already export a lot of grain that they cannot consume on their own,” said Ms Plank.

Campaigners are however concerned about major land deals pushing smaller farmers off the land, causing unemployment and blocking long-term rural development.

The Dnipropetrovsk transaction comes with considerable side benefits for the region. The Chinese firm said it would help build a motorway in the Crimea and a bridge across the Strait of Kerch to connect the Crimea with the Taman peninsula in Russia.

Cultivation methods in the area controlled by the Chinese would be modernised.

“On the one hand you can say this is good because you have these technological innovations and more efficient production, but then you have got to ask ‘is it sustainable’?” said Ms Plank.

Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?

‘All for one and one for all’ should be the battle cry if the West goes to war against Assad’s Syrian regime


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