Farage under fire over MEP expenses claims

Posted by MereNews On April - 15 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Ukip leader Nigel Farage is facing questions over the £15,500 in expenses he claims annually for office costs after it emerged he pays no rent on the small Bognor Regis property where he works.

A former manager of the West Sussex office told the Times that upkeep of the converted grain store in terms of bills and other non-rental costs only amounts to £3,000 a year. That leaves £12,000 a year apparently unaccounted for.

Ukip said Farage, a European parliament member, was “confident he has abided by European parliamentary rules at all times when spending allowances.”

Farage said: “I don’t pay rent on the office but I obviously pay for everything else. Whether it’s the burglar alarm or electricity.”

He added: “About £1,000 a month is roughly what it is. Exceptionally I put more money in as and when it’s needed.”

However, the Times reported he has been referred to the European expenses watchdog by a former Ukip official over how he has spent about £60,000 of office expenses since transparency declarations about expenses began in 2009.

MEPs are not required to provide receipts proving how they spend their expenses, with the EU saying it is a “matter of honour” that the money is spent correctly.

The allegations emerged with Ukip riding high in the polls at around 20% as the Conservatives appeared to have taken a hit over former culture secretary Maria Miller’s wrongly-claimed expenses.

Last week, Farage said Miller had “taken the mickey out of the system” and called for David Cameron to allow the public to sack MPs who perpetrated serious wrongdoing.

Challenged about Ukip’s own expenses scandals among MEPs, he said: “In the cases of the two individuals who behaved badly, I removed the whip and kicked them out of the party a long time before they were found guilty of anything.”

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So, do
you have a brand then? An objectively absurd question, but one that is approaching
normality: the concept of the “personal brand” is, to use another buzzword,
getting traction.

A 1997 article by Tom Peters in Fast
Company entitled The Brand Called You has been credited with really kicking off the idea. Peters counselled
that it was “time to take a lesson from the big brands … that’s true for anyone
who’s interested in what it takes to stand out and prosper in the new world of

Notwithstanding the article’s enthusiasm, its message is simple: there’s no alternative. In One Market Under God, his study of the 1990s American business culture, Thomas Frank wrote that market populism “salutes choice and yet tells us that the triumph of markets is inevitable”, and the apparent need for a brand is presented in similarly stark terms. The language is all empowerment, but the effect is one of capitulation.

But just
what exactly is a personal brand? One recent article seems to conclude it’s about “finding a
positive way to stand out at work”, possibly involving tattoos, and being
“unique” and “memorable”. In another telling piece, your personal brand is defined as living at the intersection of
the answers to three questions (What makes me great? What makes me unique?
What makes me compelling?), which suggests that developing one might be a bit of
a challenging endeavour for the self-deprecating.

basic points, though, appear fairly straightforward: know what you’re aiming to do and who you’re keen to
impress; self-promote like a boss; try not to leave a trail of devastation
in your wake that could backfire on you. That these elements are seen to comprise something
novel is symptomatic of a growth industry in which venerable concepts like “reputation” are repackaged and sold back
to us.

Of course, it’s
almost too easy to criticise personal brands, principally because it’s
impossible to talk about having one without sounding hilarious: one book is entitled, in all seriousness, “How YOU™ are like
shampoo”. Reading the endless, repetitive advice to adapt completely to the needs of the marketplace
while somehow remaining unique and authentic, or seemingly oxymoronic tips about “humanising your brand”, the thought occurs
that making fun of this sort of thing is akin to machine-gunning fish in a

if you were looking for a cartoonishly simple example of what’s wrong with
modern society, the “personal brand” might just be it: people are encouraged to
think of themselves in a deliberately dehumanising way in order to succeed. You
may as well tattoo the Nike swoosh on your forehead and offer your services to
students writing despairing essays about the soul of man under neoliberalism.

I don’t
want to snark at people who read this kind of supercharged self-help material
in a desperate effort to climb a rapidly-vanishing ladder, or who yearn for a
dream job. There is also nothing inherently wrong with being ambitious (and to
pre-empt an obvious rebuttal, I’m certainly not pure: you’re reading this piece
because it was published online rather than being gaffer-taped onto a rubbish
bin in my local park).

It is however
worth unpacking the concept of the personal brand rather than simply sniggering
or shrugging, for it is a symptom of something bigger. It clings, remora-like, to a damaging cult of work in a world where busyness confers status and the workplace is often conceptualised as the place where humans are
most fulfilled (notwithstanding inconvenient realities).

notion of the personal brand flourishes in the uncertainty of post-industrial
capitalism. William Arruda writes in Forbes, “if there is nothing unique about your
strengths, you’re merely a commodity”. That is, seize the zeitgeist or suffer
the fate of the unbranded worker.

one book is entitled Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from
an ‘Employee’ into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion
. This
change of mindset from “worker” to “brand” is visualised as liberating (the
company doesn’t own you! You’re not defined by your job!) but it could also be
seen as limiting: whatever the branded self is, it doesn’t look much like a
human being possessed of rights which must be respected by employers. Can one
imagine a “personal brand” consistent with joining a union?

humans have inconvenient characteristics not possessed by t-shirts and
sneakers: we are social animals who need others in order to flourish. Pouring
all our energy into “investing in YOU” would leave all but the most committed
sociopath feeling empty.

isn’t to say we can’t keep giggling at amusing branding advice, but let’s not
lose sight of the broader picture. We are citizens, not just consumers: don’t
surrender yet.

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Google buys drone heavyweight Titan Aerospace

Posted by MereNews On April - 15 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Google has bought Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drones, saying it could help bring Internet access to remote parts of the world as well as solve other problems.

Financial terms have not been disclosed. Google said on Monday that atmospheric satellites could also be used in disaster relief and assessing environmental damage.

Titan’s atmospheric satellites, which are still in development and not yet commercially available, can stay in the air for as long as five years, according to reports. Before it was updated Monday to reflect the acquisition, Titan’s website cited a wide range of uses for the drones, including atmospheric and weather monitoring, disaster response and voice and data communications.

Facebook was also in talks to buy New Mexico-based Titan earlier this year, but it acquired UK-based solar drone company Ascenta instead.

Both Google and Facebook have launched ambitious projects that aim to get everyone on the planet online. Google’s Project Loon sends giant balloons bearing Internet-beaming antennas into the stratosphere.

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With nostalgia and a renewed investment in imperial-sounding titleage, the Australian public will welcome the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their eight-month-old Prince George of Cambridge to Sydney on Wednesday.

In March 1983, aged just nine months, William made his first overseas appearances during Charles and Diana’s tour of Australia and New Zealand. They were often brief. Just a few minutes on the Tarmac at Alice Springs airport when they touched down in Australia, for example. William was carried off the plane by a nanny, Charles complained about the flies, and the 21-year-old Diana pecked the baby on the cheek before he was whisked back up and flown off to a nursery in Melbourne.

Australia will be hoping for more time with the royal child on this occasion.

Support for the Queen, who remains the head of state in Australia, has not been higher in 20 years. Polling in February revealed that only 39% of Australians supported the establishment of an Australian republic, with 41.6% opposing it.

Riding the wave of aristocratic fervour, Tony Abbott announced in March he had taken an executive decision to introduce a new tier of honours, bringing back the titles of knights and dames. Critics saw the prime minister’s move as a return to the dark ages but it had the backing of many in Australia’s rightwing press. “God Save the Queen,” said the Murdoch Brisbane tabloid the Courier-Mail, on a retro front page.

Back in 1983 New Zealand was the second point of call. No doubt a sore point for the vocal pro-monarchist lobby in Australia, who have had to wait their turn this time around as the royals complete nine days on the other side of the Tasman Sea.

Mark Salmon, a spokesman for the Australian Monarchist League, said his group, which boasts some 15,000 members, planned to hand out Australian flags at every event the royal attends on their 10 days in Australia.

Did the league have any celebratory events planned itself? “No. We don’t want to be a distraction to the official visit,” came the duly humble response.

And what of the republicans? David Morris, national director of the Australian Republican Movement, said he did not expect any protests. “They’re very welcome,” he said, “but affection is not allegiance.”

The couple face a wide-ranging itinerary. From the formal – an engagement with the prime minister in Sydney – to the twee: a visit to the Royal Easter show. The royal couple will visit Taronga Zoo on Easter Day to visit the bilby enclosure. One of the tiny endangered marsupials is named in the baby prince’s honour, a gift from the ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd, who did not swear allegiance to the Queen on his first stab at the job back in 2007.

Back in late July, on the day of George’s birth, it took Rudd nearly a full day to announce Australia’s official gift to the newborn prince. New Zealand obviously outdid Australia, announcing its gift, an expertly knitted “fine laced” shawl, hours earlier and staging a 21-gun salute outside parliament.

After the royals visibly enjoyed their time with the Kiwis – complete with traditional buttock tattoos, baby playdates, and a sail on the Auckland harbour – Australia will be sure to pull out all the stops come Wednesday.

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Australian search officials may need to use a different underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, after the first submersible mission was cut short because the ocean floor appears to be more than 4,500m deep.

The head of Australia’s joint coordination centre, Angus Houston, announced on Monday that the Australian defence vessel Ocean Shield would no longer be using the towed pinger to attempt to locate noises from the black box of flight MH370 and would instead deploy a remote submersible, the Bluefin-21, to continue the search.

But the submersible’s mission was cut short after it exceeded the limits of its operation – 4,500m below sea level – and was forced to return to the surface, according to a release from the centre on Tuesday morning.

“After completing around six hours of its mission, Bluefin-21 exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 metres and its built in safety feature returned it to the surface,” the release said.

“The six hours of data gathered by the autonomous underwater vehicle is currently being extracted and analysed.”

The release indicates the water may be deeper than has been previously thought. On Monday Mark Matthews, the United States navy captain who oversees the use of the Bluefin-21, told Guardian Australia that if the vehicle exceeded its limits more than once it would no longer work.

“It could probably go down further than that once, but it wouldn’t be functional after that,” he said.

Matthews said the vehicle was “chosen for its speed of deployment, and principally the mission right now is to localise. It’s got a tactical capability to do those debris fields but it’s certainly not the tool I would use to do a very, very broad area sonar scan”.

Matthews added that the search using the underwater vehicle was likely to unfold slowly: “If we find it on day one I would be shocked … People need to realise these searches typically unfold over months and years, certainly not hours and days.”

Houston said on Monday that there were other vehicles that could be used in the event Bluefin-21 did not have the capabilities to undertake the search.

The submersible will be sent out again later on Tuesday, although weather conditions may cause issues. There are sea swells of up to two metres and scattered showers and thunderstorms forecast.

Up to nine military aircraft, two civil aircraft and 11 ships are assisting the search on Tuesday.

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To have a prominent
political figure challenging the power and message of the Israel lobby is
almost unheard of in most western nations – which is precisely what makes the just released diaries of former Australian foreign minister
Bob Carr all the more remarkable.

Across 500 pages,
Carr catalogues his intense exercise regime, friendships with Hillary Clinton
and Henry Kissinger and hectic schedule of meetings and first-class travel.
Carr’s more eccentric quotes certainly makes it tempting to dismiss
the book, but to do so would be missing the vital importance of his remarks on
the Israel/Palestine conflict and Zionism’s most aggressive advocates.

Carr explains, in
compelling detail, how Melbourne’s Zionist lobby pressures, romances, bullies
and cajoles politicians to tow the most fundamentalist position over illegal
Israeli colonies, Palestinian recognition at the UN, and even the language used
to describe Israeli actions. He also claims that Israel lobby financing impacted the
positions of elected politicians on foreign policy. Carr reports former Kevin
Rudd telling him that about one-fifth of the money he had raised in the 2007
election campaign had come from the Jewish community, and criticises Julia
Gillard’s unfailing pro-Israel stance (see, for example, her effusive praise
of the Jewish state after she received the Jerusalem Prize), pointing out
that she would not even let him criticise Israeli West Bank settlements.

“It’s an appalling
situation if Australia allows a group of [Jewish] businessmen [in Melbourne] to
veto policy on the Middle East”, Carr summarises in frustration
(unsurprisingly, local Zionist groups have responded with fury and defensiveness to the attack).

Carr is right, of
course, but I would also have liked to see him discussing in depth the
countless numbers of politician and journalists taken on free trips to Israel
by the Zionist lobby, where they are often given a selective tour of the
region. Tim Wilson, to take just one example, described an
introduction to Israel which included a visit to a refugee camp in Bethlehem
and a tour of the old city of Jerusalem, along with “meetings with
politicians, academics and journalists” (organisers insist guests are “not controlled” and allowed open access).

Part of the softening
of politicians to be receptive to the most extreme views on Israel and
Palestine comes from those sponsored trips, coupled with relatively weak
Palestinian advocacy and a post 9/11 context which paints Arabs with a
discriminatory brush. These trips are not, as The Australian claimed last week, “to better understand its
strategic fragilities from the ground” – that’s just lobby language. No, those
trips – such as AIJAC’s Rambam Israel
– are in
essence programs engineered to show journalists, human rights commissioners, advisors, student leaders and politicians the Israeli government
perspective. More than a fair share of them return to Australia singing the praises of Israel, issuing caution over any
end to the occupation in the process.

Be astounded with this list, provided by the essential blog
chronicler of the lobby, Middle East reality check, of all the media and
politicians who have taken these trips over the last few years. This hand-holding can be
perceived as one way to propagandise the elites against growing public support
for Palestine, especially since few of these visitors seem to use their own initiative and
visit Gaza or the West Bank for more than a few hours.

The lobby has to
acknowledge its power and access to senior politicians. AIJAC head Mark Leibler
didn’t realise or care during his ABC TV Lateline interview last week that boasting about such
encounters, when most of his meetings with prime ministers and senior ministers
aren’t on the public record, reinforces the public perception that they too
often operate in the dark, without accountability. Let’s not forget: this is a
lobby which often pushes Australia to take a hardline view on settlements on occupied territories only shared by a handful of other nations, such as the Marshall
Islands, Palau and Nauru at the UN.

We are that
isolated, and Australians deserve to know what goes on behind the scenes. In
the meantime, it’s considered perfectly normal for our political class to
proudly tweet a
photo with Moshe Feiglin, one of the most hardline
Israeli politicians (as Australia’s ambassador to Israel did last week), or to welcome a
pro-occupation Israeli leader such as Naftali Bennett to Australia.

This is the
political environment in which Carr’s diaries and observations must be seen.
Australia, and most western countries, continue to indulge Israeli occupation.
But cracks are appearing in this strategy, and Carr should be congratulated for
slamming the groups and power centres that aim to continue this dysfunctional

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An alliance of shipping interests and a billionaire car dealer have launched a newspaper ad protesting against David Beckham’s plans for a football stadium in Miami, saying it threatens the city’s plans to capitalise on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

“We cannot jeopardise well-paying jobs, like crane operators, longshore workers, and mechanics, for low-paying stadium jobs, such as concession sales,” the Miami Seaport Alliance said in a full-page ad that ran in the Miami Herald and its sister Spanish-language paper, El Nuevo Herald.

The group, led by John Fox, former head of governmental affairs at Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, includes two chapters of the International Longshoremen’s Association and two stevedore companies, whose workers load and unload ships. It also includes high-profile car dealer Norman Braman, the one-time owner of Philadelphia Eagles.

Former England and LA Galaxy star Beckham last month unveiled detailed plans for a 25,000-seat waterfront stadium on the island port with sweeping views of downtown Miami.

Development of the 14.5-hectare (36-acre) space would cost about $200 million and include shops, hotels and offices connected to the mainland by a pedestrian bridge.

“This is one of four sites under consideration, there’s nothing concrete, there’s no recommendation pending,” Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez said on Monday.

The port’s master plan calls for the development of more than 650,000 square metres (7m sq ft) of convention, hotel and office space on the same site.

Before Monday’s ad, only Royal Caribbean, which is headquartered at the port, has come out publicly against Beckham’s plan.

“The plan doesn’t interfere with port operations,” said Neisen Kasdin, an attorney for Akerman Senterfitt and adviser for the Beckham group. “It will likely generate more revenue for the port in the shorter term than other concepts that have been discussed.”

Yet a growing list of opponents say a stadium would jeopardise Miami’s aspiration of becoming a more attractive choice for global shippers looking to distribute goods to the US market.

“There are plenty of other places for the stadium to be,” Braman said in a telephone interview.

Miami officials hope the port’s short distance from the Panama Canal, as well as $2bn of planned infrastructure upgrades, including cranes to unload the ships and a $1bn tunnel connecting the port to major highways, will increase its appeal.

Neither Braman nor Fox would say who paid for the two ads, worth nearly $25,000. “I haven’t given any dollars yet but I would if asked,” Braman added.

Braman spent more than $1m in 2009 to fight a Miami Marlins’ campaign to secure more than $600m in public funding for a new baseball stadium that opened in 2012.

In 2013, he spoke out against the ultimately failed quest by billionaire real estate mogul and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to secure $200m in public funds to help repair the team’s arena.

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The upcoming visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Australia is set to reignite the great republican debate – and we would like to know what our readers make of it. Are you a die-hard republican still fuming at Tony Abbott’s decision to bring back knights and dames honours system? Are you delighted at the idea of collecting royal-themed memorabilia in coming days? Are you a fashion enthusiast who feels vaguely guilty for admiring Kate Middleton’s carefully chosen outfits? Or are you one of the monarchists who plan to hand out Australian flags at every upcoming royal event?

If you would like to participate, please email Jessica Reed (jessica.reed@theguardian.com) before Wednesday 16 April at 12pm (EST), with a contribution of about 250 words – not more!

Please include your Comment is free username, your real name and a number we can contact you on. We’ll pick four entries for publication.You should include an element of comment – that is, your opinion on the issue being debated. Please note that we may not be able to respond to all submissions.

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The Premier League will investigate Cardiff City‘s claims that Crystal Palace‘s sporting director Iain Moody attempted to find out team information from City employees, after the Welsh club made a formal complaint.

Cardiff claim that Moody, who was sacked from his post as head of recruitment by Vincent Tan last year, contacted at least three members of their staff before their fixture this month, which Palace won 3-0.

A Premier League statement confirmed it will now investigate the accusations. It read: “The Premier League has received a formal complaint from Cardiff City and will now investigate the matter.”

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Jury selection began amid tight security in a New York court on Monday in the trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical Islamic cleric extradited from the UK who faces charges he conspired to support al-Qaida, partly by setting up training camps in Oregon.

Before the trial opened, trained sniffer dogs were led in and officers conducted a radiation sweep of the Manhattan courtroom. The trial opened with the selection of 12 jurors and 4 alternates.

Wearing a blue t-shirt, grey sweat pants and glasses, the white-haired preacher was instructed to stand as judge Katherine Forrest told jurors he had both hands amputated. She asked them if there was anything about his appearance or disability that would affect their ability to be impartial.

Abu Hamza, who is also missing an eye, claims to have lost both hands while fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. He was not wearing his trademark prosthetic hook, which had been removed for security purposes.

A single prosthetic device with a pen attached lay on the table in front of him.

Abu Hamza has informed the judge and his lawyers he will testify on his own behalf. In a pretrial hearing last week, he told the judge: “I think I am innocent. I need to go through it, have a chance to defend myself.”

The grey-bearded Egyptian preacher, 55, indicted under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, faces charges of setting up training camps in Bly, Oregon, 15 years ago, advocating jihad in Afghanistan and of ensuring there was satellite phone service for hostage takers in Yemen in 1998, in which three Britons and an Australian were killed.

He denies all charges.

The prospective jurors were read a list of names of witnesses, entities and locations likely to come up in the trial, including the Finsbury Park mosque, in London, where Abu Hamza was an imam in the 1990s, the Dar-as-Salam mosque in Seattle, Washington; Bly, Oregon, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. They were also told of Saajid Badat, a British man who plotted with “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, to blow up airplanes who was due to testify against Abu Hamza.

Abu Hamza was jailed in 2004 in Britain, on separate charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging supporters to kill non-Muslims. Members of the London mosque included Zacarias Moussaoui, a conspirator on the September 11 terror attacks and Reid.

He was extradited to the US in 2012.

Abu Hamza’s trial is expected to last between four and five weeks. The court will not sit on Tuesday or Wednesday, due to the Jewish passover holiday, and opening statements are scheduled for Thursday.

The trial comes a month after a Manhattan jury convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and al-Qaida’s spokesman after the 2001 terrorist attacks, of charges that will likely result in a life sentence.

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