Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Benefits up 5 per cent, and hard working families are footing the bill - 30th Nov 2011

George Osborne provoked a furious row by upgrading benefits in line with inflation while hard-pressed families and public-sector workers face a squeeze on their incomes.

The Chancellor confirmed that most handouts such as unemployment benefit and disability living allowance will rise in line with September’s 5.2 per cent inflation figure.

And OAPs were given the biggest cash increase in the state pension since it was introduced more than 100 years ago.

Under the Government’s rules, the annual increase in pensions and benefits, which comes into effect in April, is linked to the inflation figure from the previous September.

Following warnings that the shock spike in inflation would cost the Treasury as much as £1.8billion, Mr Osborne was considering a recalculation of the uprating to save money. Read More

Still think striking is a good idea? Osborne's war on public sector as he warns of a shrinking economy, growing dole queues and falling family income

George Osborne tightened the screw on the bloated public sector yesterday as Britain was warned it faces years of even more grinding austerity.

With more than two million strikers forecast to cause chaos today for schools, councils, the NHS and border controls, the Chancellor stunned unions with an unexpected triple whammy of cost-cutting measures.

State staff – already in the middle of a two-year pay freeze – will now be restricted to a 1 per cent pay rise until 2015, and face public sector job losses of 710,000 and an end to jealously-guarded national pay deals.

Mr Osborne insisted striking public sector staff would simply have to accept reforms to make their pensions, which require an extra £10billion merely to stay afloat, 'affordable'.

But the immediate future for struggling private sector workers was little better as households face the worst squeeze on incomes since World War Two.

Mr Osborne, who admitted the economic crisis is worse than anyone expected, warned the EU debt crisis could drag Britain back into recession and announced that deep spending cuts will continue for six more years, two years longer than planned. Read More

Sydney Nursing Home Blaze, Eleventh Victim Dies - 30th Nov 2011

An 83-year-old woman has become the 11th person to die following a fire at a nursing home in Sydney, Australia.

Police said in a statement that the woman, who has not been named, died on Tuesday in hospital 11 days after the blaze at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home.

Three residents died in the inferno, while the remainder died in hospital of burns and smoke inhalation in the days since.

Roger Dean, a 35-year-old man who worked as a nurse at the home, is accused of starting the fire and has been charged with eight counts of murder.

Police said they had not ruled out laying further charges.

At the time of the blaze, emergency services said they found a "chaotic and tragic" scene after a fire alarm went off in the early hours of November 18.

Battling thick black smoke so dense they could not see their hands in front of their faces, firefighters evacuated 88 disorientated and frail patients, some blind or suffering dementia.

The New South Wales government has ordered a review of criminal screening of staff at state nursing homes and an audit of buildings at elderly care facilities following the tragedy. Read More

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake CENTRAL PERU - 30th Nov 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck Central Peru at a depth of 64.5 km (40.1 miles), the quake hit at 03:23:01 UTC Wednesday 30th November 2011.
The epicenter was 75 km (46 miles) ENE of Puquio, Peru
No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake LUZON, PHILIPPINES - 30th Nov 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck Luzon, Philippines at a depth of just 2.1 km (1.3 miles - Poorly Constrained), the quake hit at 01:27:43 UTC Wednesday 30th November 2011.
The epicenter was 123 km (76 miles) WNW of Olongapo, Luzon, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

5.0 Magnitude Earthquake EASTERN TURKEY - 30th Nov 2011

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake has struck Eastern Turkey at a depth of 10 km (6.2 miles), the quake hit at 00:47:24 UTC Wednesday 30th November 2011.
The epicenter was 12 km (7.4 miles) Southeast of Van, Turkey
No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

6.0 Magnitude Earthquake LUZON, PHILIPPINES - 30th Nov 2011

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake has struck Luzon, Philippines at a depth of 14.6 km (9.1 miles), the quake hit at 00:27:08 UTC Wednesday 30th November 2011.
The epicenter was 152 km (94 miles) WNW of Olongapo, Luzon, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

5.2 Magnitude Earthquake TONGA - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 5.2 earthquake has struck Tonga at a depth of 33 km (20.4 miles), the quake hit at 23:44:07 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 153 km (94.8 miles) West of Pangai, Tonga
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

4.6 Magnitude Earthquake PHILIPPINE ISLANDS REGION - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake has struck the Philippine Islands Region at a depth of 80 km (49.6 miles), the quake hit at 22:32:25 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 76 km (47.2 miles) Northeast of Sapao, Philippines
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

4.5 Magnitude Earthquake OFFSHORE CHIAPAS, MEXICO - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 4.5 earthquake has struck offshore Chiapas, Mexico at a depth of 58.1 km (36.1 miles), the quake hit at 22:05:28 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 55 km (34 miles) Southwest of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Mass Walkout Set To Cause Major Disruption in the United Kingdom - 30th Nov 2011

People are being warned of major disruption to schools, council services and airports as up to two million public sector workers go on strike.

Billed as the biggest day of industrial action since the 1979 Winter of Discontent, teachers, court officials and border agency staff will march and man picket lines across the country.

More than 1,000 rallies and demonstrations will take place across the UK with the biggest march in the heart of the capital this afternoon.

Thousands are expected to join the protest calling on the Government to think again on pensions and pay.

The Government has warned unions that today's national action will "achieve nothing".

But workers insist they have no choice but to take action over pension changes which would see them work longer, pay more and receive less in retirement. Read More

4.4 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTHERN ALASKA - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 4.4 earthquake has struck Southern Alaska at a depth of 79.9 km (49.6 miles), the quake hit at 20:34:46 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 48 km (30 miles) West of Anchor Point, Alaska
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

4.1 Magnitude Earthquake SOUTHERN GREECE - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 4.1 earthquake has struck Southern Greece at a depth of 158 km (97.9 miles), the quake hit at 16:55:58 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 16 km (9.9 miles) South of La├║rion, Greece
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

4.4 Magnitude Earthquake KURIL ISLANDS - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 4.4 earthquake has struck the Kuril Islands at a depth of 119 km (73.7 miles), the quake hit at 16:35:44 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 80 km (49.6 miles) Northeast of Otradnoye, Russia
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

Five drown in biochemical basin in East Jiangsu province, China - 29th Nov 2011

Five workers have drowned in a biochemical reaction basin at a Japanese-invested company in east Jiangsu province, local authorities said Tuesday.

The workers drowned in the basin in Changzhou Chienchin Grinding Material Co., Ltd. at about 1:20 p.m., according to rescuers.

They were all from the Hailan Environmental Protection Engineering Company in Jiangsu's capital city of Nanjing, which had been commissioned by the Changzhou company to dismantle the basin since Nov. 16.

Changzhou Chienchin Grinding Material Co., Ltd. was established by Japan NANKO Abrasives Co., Ltd. in 2008.

Located in the Trina Photovoltaic Industry Zone in Changzhou's Xinbei district, the company is mainly engaged in the disposal of used slurry from silicon carbide (SIC) and polyethylene glycol (PEG).

An investigation into the cause of the accident is under way. Source

'tornado' hits Greater Manchester, England, One Woman taken to Hospital - 29th Nov 2011

A woman has been taken to hospital after what has been described as a "tornado" struck part of Greater Manchester.

A sudden gust of wind toppled a chimney in Heaton Moor near Stockport at about 14:30 GMT.

The woman was taken to Stepping Hill Hospital with shock and cuts and bruises, said a fire service spokesman.

There are also reports of wind damage in Blackburn, Lancashire.

Dave Ashton, 38, from Heaton Mersey, was in his computer shop at Moor Top on Heaton Moor Lane when he witnessed what appeared to be a "brief tornado". Source

76 per cent of oysters tested from UK oyster growing beds had traces of the infectious bug norovirus - 29th Nov 2011

More than three-quarters of British-grown oysters contain norovirus, known as the ‘winter vomiting bug’, experts have warned.

A study conducted on behalf of the Food Standards Agency found that 76 per cent of oysters tested from UK oyster growing beds had traces of the infectious bug.

Low levels of the virus, which causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea, were found in 52 per cent of the positive samples, according to the data.

The FSA said it was ‘difficult’ to assess the potential health impact of the findings, as researchers were unable to differentiate between infectious and non-infectious norovirus material in the shellfish.

However, it said the results of the study would be used as part of a review by the European Food Safety Authority, which is to advise the European Commission on what a legal safe level for norovirus in oysters should be. Read More

Russia flexes its muscles with launch of early warning radar system... days after U.S. reveals own plans - 29th Nov 2011

Russia displayed yet another show of strength today with the launch of a new military early warning radar - just days after the U.S. revealed its own missile defence plans.

President Dmitry Medvedev switched on the radar, in Pionersky, Kaliningrad, which he said proved Russia was ready to respond quickly to international developments.

But he also revealed it could be integrated into a joint NATO-Russia missile shield if a co-operation agreement was reached. Read More

RUSSIA'S EARLY WARNING RADAR SYSTEM

Located in the westernmost region of Pionerskoye, Kaliningrad region

Borders two NATO nations of Poland and Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea

Can monitor missile launches across the whole of Europe with range of 4,000 miles

Monitors airspace to west of Russia from the North Pole to the north of Africa

Developed at the Moscow Research Institute of Long-Distance Radio Communication

Consists of 23 blocks of equipment

Can be redeployed quickly if needed

A similar radar station operates in Russia's souther region of Krasnodar

Another station will be ready in 2012 in the Siberian region of Irkutsk

Will serve for 20 years and then be re-modernised


4.1 Magnitude Earthquake RAT ISLANDS, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, ALASKA - 29th Nov 2011

A magnitude 4.1 earthquake has struck the Rat Islands, Aleutian Islands, Alaska at a depth of 23.4 km (14.5 miles), the quake hit at 18:27:09 UTC Tuesday 29th November 2011.
The epicenter was 451 km (280 miles) ESE form Attu Station, Alaska
No Tsunami Warning Issued - No Reports of Injuries or Damage at this time

HMS Belfast Gangway Collapses, 2 Injured 170 Evacuated - 29th Nov 2011

Two workmen were rushed to hospital after a gangway leading to the warship HMS Belfast collapsed, plunging into the Thames.

More than 100 people on board had to be evacuated in small boats following the incident at the World War Two tourist attraction which is moored on London's south bank between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.

The embankment near the ship was cordoned off with barriers to prevent people getting too close as an RNLI lifeboat from Tower Lifeboat Station scoured the river for any further casualties.

The walkway, which is made from metal scaffolding and covered with tarpaulin, could be seen partially submerged in the water. Read More

Ireland demands debt relief, warns on EU treaties

The Irish government has suddenly complicated the picture by requesting debt relief from as a reward for upholding the integrity of the EU financial system after the Lehman crisis, though there is no explicit linkage between the two issues.

"We carried an undue burden for protecting the European banking system from contagion," said finance minister Michael Noonan.

"We are looking at ways to reduce the debt. We would like to see our European colleagues address this in a positive manner. Wherever there is a reckless borrower, there is also a reckless lender," he said, alluding to German, French, British and Dutch banks.

Mr Noonan hinted that Dublin is asking for some of interested relief on a €31bn EU promissory noted linked to the Anglo Irish fiasco, among other matters.

Mr Noonan said Ireland's public mood has turned very sour. more

Polish squatters 'move in' to affluent London area 'because rents are too high': UK

A group of Polish squatters have taken up residence in a £1m home in one of London's most affluent areas because "rents are too high" for them to afford to live in the area.

The six squatters "moved in" to the Victorian home in Highgate, north London, a fortnight ago.

The home is located a short distance from homes owned by Kate Moss, the model, and actor Jude Law.

They even put a sign up in the window stating that they are claiming squatter's rights and do not intend to move until rents in the area fall.

Figures show that rent for a five bed home costs about £5,000 a month.

One 24-year-old squatter told a local newspaper: "There are so many empty big buildings not in use - it's a big waste. more

Death of 'thank you'

It is considered one of the basics of politeness, but saying "thank you" may be dying out, according to new research.

Rather than failing to show gratitude, however, we are simply using other words. In fact, one in three people say they usually use another word to express gratitude.

Among the most popular phrases were the less formal “ta” and “cool” as well as the French word “merci”.

Although the average Briton still says thank you up to 5,000 times a year, the results indicate an increasingly casual way of speaking, with 40 per cent believing they use “thank you” less than previous generations.

The poll by television channel Food Network UK to coincide with the launch of Thank You Day also showed that one in 20 said “nice one” instead.

But 95 per cent still believe good manners are important and eight in 10 Britons say they are polite. more

Scrap metal villains are now targetting garden gates, police warn

Shocked families in two streets at Thatcham, Berkshire, woke to find thirty gates had been lifted from their hinges and carted away during the night.

Housewife Angela Bint, of Coopers Crescent, said "My husband went to open the gates and realised they weren't there any more. It's going to cost us about £240 to replace.

"There are a lot pf pensioners on the estate who can't afford to buy a new set of garden gates. My dad George who lives along the road had his stolen too."

The raiders also struck in neighbouring Beverley Close and police appealed for sightings of a transit van which they think was used to take the gates away.

Thames Valley Police are advising residents to invert and cap the hinges so they can't be lifted and to mark garden property with special ink. more

Far more bluefin sold than reported caught: report

This "bluefin gap" occurred despite enhanced reporting and enforcement measures introduced in 2008 by the 48-member International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which sets annual quotas by country, it said.

Trade figures showed that real catches of bluefin in 2009 and 2010 totaled more than 70,500 tonnes, twice ICCAT's tally for those two years, according to the report compiled by Washington-based Pew Environment Group.

"The current paper-based catch documentation system is plagued with fraud, misinformation and delays in reporting," said Roberto Mielgo, a former industry insider and author of the report. "Much more needs to be done."

Before 2010, ICCAT systematically set fishing quotas substantially higher than the recommendations of its own scientific committee, which had warned repeatedly that stocks were in danger of crashing.

In 2010, the target quota -- 12,900 tonnes for fish caught in the Mediterranean and Northeastern Atlantic -- fell for the first time within the panel's recommended range.

But the new report implies the industry has circumvented the catch limits and tougher compliance measures.

"This (catch) gap exists mainly because of loopholes in the ranching industry," Mielgo told AFP.

He referred to the practice of netting young wild tuna in the Mediterranean and then corralling them for fattening, a system he helped to pioneer.

"Essentially, more bluefin tuna are harvested from the ranches than initially reported when they are first transferred there." more

State scrambles to fight massive tree die-offs

So many pine, fir and spruce trees in the Northwest are riddled with bugs and disease that major tree die-offs are expected to rip through a third of Eastern Washington forests — an area covering nearly 3 million acres — in the next 15 years, according to new state projections.

Because Washington's forests are deteriorating so quickly, the state commissioner of public lands last week said he'll appoint an emergency panel of scientists and foresters to seek ways to stabilize or reverse the decline.

The problem, as The Seattle Times reported earlier this month, is largely centered on tree-killing scourges such as the mountain pine beetle, which is spreading rapidly and getting into ever higher-elevation trees such as the troubled whitebark pine.

The number of acres of trees damaged in the past decade by diseases such as blister rust and invasions of western spruce budworm and bark beetles is more than twice what it was in the 1990s — and three times greater than in the 1980s. more

Northwest Oyster Die-offs Show Ocean Acidification Has Arrived

Standing on the shores of Netarts Bay in Oregon on a sunny fall morning, it’s hard to imagine that the fate of the oysters being raised here at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery is being determined by what came out of smokestacks and tailpipes in the 1960s and ‘70s. But this rural coastal spot and the shellfish it has nurtured for centuries are a bellwether of one of the most palpable changes being caused by global carbon dioxide emissions — ocean acidification.

It was here, from 2006 to 2008, that oyster larvae began dying dramatically, with hatchery owners Mark Wiegardt and his wife, Sue Cudd, experiencing larvae losses of 70 to 80 percent. “Historically we’ve had larvae mortalities,” says Wiegardt, but those deaths were usually related to bacteria. After spending thousands of dollars to disinfect and filter out pathogens, the hatchery’s oyster larvae were still dying.

Finally, the couple enlisted the help of Burke Hales, a biogeochemist and ocean ecologist at Oregon State University. He soon homed in on the carbon chemistry of the water. “My wife sent a few samples in and Hales said someone had screwed up the samples because the [dissolved CO2 gas] level was so ridiculously high,” says Wiegardt, a fourth-generation oyster farmer. But the measurements were accurate. What the Whiskey Creek hatchery was experiencing was acidic seawater, caused by the ocean absorbing excessive amounts of CO2 from the air. more

Greenhouse gases soar; scientists see little chance of arresting global warming this century

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe.

New figures from the U.N. weather agency Monday showed that the three biggest greenhouse gases not only reached record levels last year but were increasing at an ever-faster rate, despite efforts by many countries to reduce emissions.

As world leaders meet next week in South Africa to tackle the issue of climate change, several scientists said their projections show it is unlikely the world can hold warming to the target set by leaders just two years ago in Copenhagen.

“The growth rate is increasing every decade,” said Jim Butler, director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Division. “That’s kind of scary.”

Scientists can’t say exactly what levels of greenhouse gases are safe, but some fear a continued rise in global temperatures will lead to irreversible melting of some of the world’s ice sheets and a several-foot rise in sea levels over the centuries — the so-called tipping point.

The findings from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization are consistent with other grim reports issued recently. Earlier this month, figures from the U.S. Department of Energy showed that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 jumped by the highest one-year amount ever. more

Rich nations 'give up' on new climate treaty until 2020

Governments of the world's richest countries have given up on forging a new treaty on climate change to take effect this decade, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment through global warming.

Ahead of critical talks starting next week, most of the world's leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.

The eight-year delay is the worst contemplated by world governments during 20 years of tortuous negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions, and comes despite intensifying warnings from scientists and economists about the rapidly increasing dangers of putting off prompt action.

After the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 ended amid scenes of chaos, governments pledged to try to sign a new treaty in 2012. The date is critical, because next year marks the expiry of the current provisions of the Kyoto protocol, the only legally binding international agreement to limit emissions.

The UK, European Union, Japan, US and other rich nations are all now united in opting to put off an agreement and the United Nations also appears to accept this.

Developing countries are furious, and the delay will be fiercely debated at the next round of international climate talks beginning a week on Monday in Durban, South Africa. more

New Delhi, Now More Polluted Than Beijing

India has recently pulled far ahead of China on one dubious development marker – air pollution in the country’s capital.

The air quality in New Delhi on Monday afternoon was significantly worse than the air quality in Beijing, according to real-time air monitors run by the Indian and U.S. governments in both cities.

New Delhi, a landlocked, fast-growing metropolis of more than 16 million people, is regularly shrouded by haze and smog (sometimes euphemistically referred to as fog) in winter months, as barometric pressure and cooler air mix with construction dust, smoke from cow dung fires and car exhaust, which then hover over the city for days.

But this year, the air quality in New Delhi has seemed noticeably worse than previous years as the summer heat dissipates. On Monday, a thick gray haze hung over Delhi’s taller buildings, and a visible film formed quickly on stationary objects, leaving a chemical taste and grime on the skin.

The air feels thick because it is heavy with debris and pollution. more

Yangtze River Pollution Imperils Hundreds of Millions

The banks of China’s Yangtze River are crowded with chemical factories, which dump massive amounts of toxic waste water into the river, affecting hundreds of millions of people who rely on the river for drinking water. Nevertheless, a Chinese official recently stated that the Yangtze’s water quality “overall is good and can be used safely.”

According to a recent Economics Information Daily report, latest data from the Yangtze River Water Resources Protection Bureau says that the total polluted water discharged into the Yangtze exceeded 33.9 billion tons this year and is increasing at a rate of 2 percent per year.

Data released by the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection last December said there are over 10 thousand chemical factories, five major steel manufacturing centers, and seven major oil refineries along the banks of the Yangtze.

The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia, measuring 6,300 km. It contains 40 percent of China’s water resources and flows through 11 provinces and regions, with around 550 million people living on its banks.

He Chunyin, director of Jiangsu Environmental Protection Bureau, told Ningbo Daily, the majority of cities along the Yangtze get their drinking water from the Yangtze. If the river is polluted, then there is no other water source. Many new chemical factories are now operating in the middle and western regions of China, but since these regions are less developed, there is not much regulation. Consequently, the polluted water will be discharged into the river, affecting the downstream, he said. more

A "Survey" Shows Majority in U.S. Support Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax (Yeah, right)

A majority of Americans across the political spectrum support policies that reduce carbon emissions, including a revenue-neutral carbon tax, according to a new survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. In a survey conducted between Oct. 20 and Nov. 6, 65 percent of respondents said they would support a revenue-neutral carbon tax to help “create jobs and decrease pollution” — including 51 percent of those identifying themselves as Republicans, 69 percent of independents, and 77 percent of Democrats. Sixty percent said they would support a $10-per-ton carbon tax if the money was spent reducing federal income taxes. That support continued even when respondents were told the carbon tax would “slightly increase the cost of many things you buy, including food, clothing, and electricity.” Support for the tax dipped to 49 percent if the revenue was instead returned to each family as an annual check, and to just 44 percent if it was spent paying down the national debt. Sixty-nine percent said they oppose federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, while 54 percent opposed ethanol subsidies. Since May, there has been a 9 percent decline among those expressing “strong support” for renewable energy research. source

Record number of young unemployed "Neets" (Young people not in education, employment or training)

More than a million 16 to 24-year-olds - almost one in five - are considered ''NEET'' (not in education, employment or training), according to statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE).

The figures show that in the third quarter of 2011, 1,163,000 young people in this age group were NEET, an extra 137,000 compared with the same point last year.

This is up 129,000 from 884,000 youngsters in the third quarter of last year.

And around one in seven 16-18-year-olds, 267,000 in total, are NEET, compared to 265,000 at the same point last year.

The figures come just weeks after Government figures revealed that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds looking for work increased by 67,000 in the quarter to September to 1.02 million, the worst total since comparable records began in 1992, giving a jobless rate of 21.9%, also a record.

Helen Donohoe, director of public policy at Action for Children, said: "These statistics are deeply concerning, but sadly, the number of young people who don't have jobs, or who aren't able to access education, is a reality we see every day.

"Many of these young people are vulnerable and are facing obstacles that most adults would find too much to bear. They may be living in poverty or experiencing neglect on a daily basis, putting employment and education opportunities far out of reach.

"We need to give these young people a fighting chance and we know that we can do that with the right kind of support. Timely support that addresses need and offers stability and consistency can open up opportunities to the right education, training programmes, and jobs.

"We know these programmes work to transform lives for the better, and can save society huge amounts of money in the long term.

"Unless we act now, we risk losing an entire generation of young people to a future without hope. This isn't a price any of us can afford." more

Independent schools 'could fuel social divides'

Private schools risk “perpetuating social divides” by failing to support struggling state comprehensives, according to a leading independent school headmaster.

Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, Berkshire, says the fee-paying sector has a “moral duty” to help run state schools in deprived areas.

In comments that put him on a collision course with many other independent school heads, he also criticises opponents of the Government’s academies programme.

Dr Seldon says claims that fee-paying schools should resist from sponsoring academies were “evasive and disingenuous”, adding that the perceived practical difficulties associated with the scheme have been “much exaggerated”.

Ministers have repeatedly appealed to leading independent schools to set up and run academies – taxpayer-funded state schools free of local council control.

Around 30 independent schools including Wellington, Sevenoaks, Dulwich, Marlborough, Malvern, Winchester, Uppingham and Oundle already support the scheme. more

Pupils 'woefully undernourished' in history

Education Secretary Michael Gove is raising fresh concerns that youngsters are leaving school "woefully undernourished" in the subject of history.

In a speech today, he says he is "startled" by the narrowness of the topics pupils end up studying in history.

English exam boards only offer pupils the chance to study the "modern world" or the "schools history project", he claims.

"I'm an unashamed and unapologetic advocate for the central role of history in our curriculum," Mr Gove says.

"Which is why I'm genuinely worried that - despite the best efforts of brilliant history teachers, gifted academics and the television and publishing executives who've helped to popularise history - our curriculum and examinations system mean that children thirsting to know more about our past leave school woefully undernourished."

He cites a recent survey which found around half of English 18-to-24-year-olds are unaware that Nelson led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, and a similar proportion of young people did not know that the Romans built Hadrian's Wall. more

Why eastern DR Congo is 'rape capital of the world'

From the first time you step into Eastern Congo, you find yourself surrounded by the exotic and extraordinary, be it flora and fauna or the just plain incongruous -- the severed wing of a Russian aircraft stored on the side of the road, or a boy with a gun.

The place is pulsating with the heat and energy of a population of people fighting to survive just one more day. But the violence here is as intense as this intoxicating, heady mix of Africa at its best and worst.

Eastern Congo has been called the "rape capital of the world" by U.N. Special Representative Margot Wallstrom. Reports record that 48 women are raped every hour. I have been working in the region for 10 years and have seen a tragic development in this unpunished crime against the heart of society.

I first went to a town called Shabunda, deep in the forest. It was October 2001 and circumstances brought me to Congo rather than Afghanistan. A small twin-engined plane was the only way in. And out. more

China's mighty industrial machine is stalling

China's mighty industrial machine is stalling. New figures today show something that will be worrying authorities.

First the broad numbers: An index put together by HSBC – with no government input - shows a reading in November of 48. Anything over 50 shows that factories are increasing production, under 50 they are cutting back.

The figure is perhaps not surprising given that China's two big export regions, Europe and the U.S., are in deep trouble. But it's not exports that are drying up, it is local demand. And that could be a problem.

Export orders actually grew in November, while domestic demand shrank as a result of all the moves taken by the Chinese authorities over the last 18 months to cool the overheating property market.

Those moves are working, but the consequence of that is less demand for household goods made in China.

Combine the latest manufacturing numbers with the news earlier this week that the level of property transactions have slowed sharply and the Chinese economy is in retreat on two key levels. more