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Archive for December, 2011

French President’s Residence ‘Busted’ For BitTorrent Piracy.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy is a man who has championed some of the most aggressive anti-piracy legislation in Europe. But today it’s revealed that the occupants of his very own office and home are responsible for a nice selection of pirate downloads using BitTorrent. Three strikes? Those with access to the Presidential Palace’s IP addresses have already doubled that quota.

Located near the Champs-Élysées in the French capital, Paris, the Élysée Palace is the official residence of President Sarkozy. As husband of ‘first lady’ and musician Carla Bruni, Sarkozy has helped promote and push through some of the toughest anti-filesharing legislation to be found anywhere in Europe.

Those provisions include Internet disconnections for persistent pirates, and as of October this year 60 French Internet subscribers were on their third and final strike.

This morning, however, we’re left wondering if Sarkozy, his family and French ministers will be able to answer any emails in the months to come.

As reported to TorrentFreak this morning by Nicolas Perrier of Nikopik, people using IP addresses allocated to the Élysée Palace (62.160.71.062.160.71.255) have been very naughty indeed.

According to data from YouHaveDownloaded.com, a range of downloads have been actioned from the Palace including a cam copy of Tower Heist, a telesync copy of Arthur Christmas, and music from The Beach Boys. The latter was actually a lossless FLAC rip, but as one might expect, only the best quality will do for the Palace.

Categories: News of the moment

Revealed: The true scale of Britain’s woodland sell-off.

Sunday 18th December 2011 by Brian Brady   Find Article Here:-

Forestry Commission forced to get rid of thousands of hectares as it attempts to balance the books.

Thousands of hectares of Britain’s forests have been sold off by the Forestry Commission as it struggles to meet financial targets imposed by successive governments.

A detailed inventory of woodland sold off by the FC, which is charged with protecting our forests for future generations, shows that it has raked in millions from sales to private companies, many of which hold licences to carry out logging. Campaigners complain that several buyers have barred the public from newly acquired woodland, despite signing legally binding contracts saying they will preserve traditional rights of access.

The FC’s own records show that between 1997 and 2010 it sold almost 12,000 hectares of forest, in contrast with the 5,403 hectares acquired for the nation in the same period. An official account of transactions over the past decade obtained by this newspaper shows that more than 170 plots of public woodland have been sold to private buyers across the country since 2001. The largest was a 712-hectare site at Threestoneburn Wood, Northumberland, sold for £2.7m in 2007.

Despite a public outcry over the Government’s plans to sell the Forestry Commission’s entire stock of public woodland earlier this year, sales have continued. Although Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, abandoned plans to sell off England’s 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland in February, an independent forestry panel is currently mapping out its future.

Opponents of the plans last night claimed the Forestry Commission’s long-term policy on woodland sales make a large-scale sell-off inevitable.

Ian Standing, honorary secretary of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign in the Forest of Dean, said: “Due to government pressure on the FC to balance its books, sales revenues appear to have funded revenue deficits. Thus there were major sales during the Blair years. And along with the forestry consultation of last January there was an order to the FC to sell off, right away, 15 per cent of the English forest estate. This is now on hold pending the panel’s final report in April.”

While it awaits this, the FC is pressing ahead: it pushed through the controversial sale of 525 hectares at the Stang, County Durham, last January, at the height of the row over the Government’s plan to sell all public forests. The site, which produces 7,000 tonnes of timber a year, was bought by a London-based consultancy for over £3m.

Most recently, 36 hectares at Sawrey Ground, Ambleside, in the Lake District, were sold last March for £200,000 – although there was local opposition at the loss of a “historic forest”. The FC’s operations manager, John Bruce, said: “I hope people can understand we would rather keep hold of all our assets but we have to sell 2,000 hectares to keep afloat.”

Maria Castellina, of the Ramblers, said: “Forest sales continue to be an issue as the Ramblers is also campaigning to open up the other 80 per cent of England’s forests that remain in private hands.”

An interim report from the forestry panel last week said the benefits of the country’s publicly owned forests were “greatly undervalued” by the planned sell-off, and claimed the £20m-a-year cost of maintaining woodlands “delivers benefits far in excess of this”.

The shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, added: “Labour wants a long-term future for our forests that will prevent the kind of smash-and-grab approach we saw from ministers earlier this year.”

An FC spokesman said the organisation sold land “according to criteria agreed each year with respective ministers”. He added: “The criteria tended to keep those woodlands with highest public benefit and conservation value and selected those woodlands with lowest public benefit or that were inefficient to manage.”

Categories: News of the moment

Feeling under the weather? You’ve got Christmas Tree Syndrome.

December 19, 2011 3 comments

By 18th December 2011.     Find Article Here:-

Don’t be too quick to judge those who feel under the weather over the festive period – rather than seasonal overindulgence, it could be their Christmas tree making them ill.

The traditional centrepiece decoration has been blamed for triggering a range of health complaints, from wheezing and coughing to lethargy and insomnia.

The condition – “Christmas Tree Syndrome” – is caused by mould growing on the trees, whose spores lead to problems when breathed in.

It has been discovered by scientists from Upstate Medical University, part of the State University of New York, who carried out research after observing a peak in respiratory illnesses in the weeks either side of December 25.

The team analysed clippings from 28 Christmas trees including needles and bark, from a range of species, and found 53 cases of mould.

Of these, 70 per cent can cause symptoms including itchy noses, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pains, sinus congestion, feelings of fatigue and problems sleeping.

Some of the mould identified can even lead to long term lung problems and conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

The mould occurs on the trees naturally, but thrives in the warm conditions of a well-heated home at Christmas.

The team, writing in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, also reported another study which found that after a Christmas tree has been on display for a fortnight, the number of airborne mould spores increases from 800 per 35 cubic feet to 5,000.

Dr Lawrence Kurlandsky, who led the research, said he had treated patients where there was a clear link between their illness and their Christmas tree.

“I have had patients where the association between illness and the presence of a Christmas tree seem to be pretty clear cut.

“I explain that there are nicer places to be on Christmas Eve than seeing the doctor and to perhaps just not have a tree or have an artificial one.”

For those not wishing to opt for this extreme option, Dr Kurlandsky has two other pieces of advice for those wishing to avoid falling victim to Christmas Tree Syndrome.

Firstly, hose down your tree in the garden and leave it to dry before bringing it inside. Then, to further reduce your chance, remove it swiftly after Christmas Day, long before the traditional Twelfth Night.

THE SHOCKING TRUTH OF THE PENDING EU COLLAPSE!

This is an interesting 3 minute video that explains a little about what is going on in Brussels.

The European Stability Mechanism, or as the Video says, a Treaty Of Debt.

Watch Video Here:-

 

Categories: News of the moment

Steve Bell on the US troop departure from Iraq – Cartoon.

16.12.11 Steve Bell

Categories: Cartoons

Steve Bell on Coalition Tensions – Cartoon.

Tensions are rising in the coalition cabinet – and so are unemployment figures, which have hit a 17-year high.

15.12.11 Steve Bell on rising tensions in the coalition

 

Saatchi & Saatchi’s noted work included their campaign “Labour isn’t working”[3] on behalf of the Conservative Party before the 1979 UK general election .

Categories: Cartoons

Revealed: huge increase in executive pay for America’s top bosses.

Exclusive survey shows America’s CEOs enjoyed pay hikes of up to 40% last year – with one chief executive earning $145m.

John Hammergren, executive pay

John Hammergren, CEO of healthcare provider McKesson, earned $145m last year.
Photograph: George Nikitin/AP

Chief executive pay has roared back after two years of stagnation and decline. America’s top bosses enjoyed pay hikes of between 27 and 40% last year, according to the largest survey of US CEO pay. The dramatic bounceback comes as the latest government figures show wages for the majority of Americans are failing to keep up with inflation.

America’s highest paid executive took home more than $145.2m, and as stock prices recovered across the board, the median value of bosses’ profits on stock options rose 70% in 2010, from $950,400 to $1.3m. The news comes against the backdrop of an Occupy Wall Street movement that has focused Washington’s attention on the pay packages of America’s highest paid.

The Guardian’s exclusive first look at the CEO pay survey from corporate governance group GMI Ratings will further fuel debate about America’s widening income gap. The survey, the most extensive in the US, covered 2,647 companies, and offers a comprehensive assessment of all the data now available relating to 2010 pay.

Last year’s survey, covering 2009, found pay rates were broadly flat following a decline in wages the year before. Base salaries in 2009 showed a median increase of around 2%, and annual cash compensation increased just over 1.5%. The troubled stock markets took their toll, and added together CEO pay declined for the third year, though the decrease was marginal, less than three-tenths of a percent. The decline in the wider economy in 2007, 2008 and 2009 far outstripped the decline in CEO pay.

This year’s survey shows CEO pay packages have boomed: the top 10 earners took home more than $770m between them in 2010. As stock prices began to recover last year, the increase in CEO pay outstripped the rise in share value. The Russell 3000 measure of US stock prices was up by 16.93% in 2010, but CEO pay went up by 27.19% overall. For S&P 500 CEOs, the largest companies in the sample, total realised compensation – including perks and pensions and stock awards – increased by a median of 36.47%. Total pay at midcap companies, which are slightly smaller than the top firms, rose 40.2%.

GMI released a preliminary report on 2010 CEO pay earlier this year, before all the data was available. Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate at GMI, said that report had shown a significant bounce but he had expected a wider sample to dampen the effect.

“Wages for everybody else have either been in decline or stagnated in this period, and that’s for those who are in work,” said Hodgson. “I had a feeling that we would see some significant increases this year. But 30-40% was something of a surprise.” Bosses won in every area, with dramatic increases in pensions, payoffs and perks – as well as salary.

Still, there are no bankers among this year’s big winners. Three of this year’s top 10 earners come from the healthcare industry. Top earner John Hammergren at McKesson, the world’s largest healthcare firm, made $145,266,91 last year – most of it from stock options.

The rising stock markets were especially good to CEOs, said Hodgson. Stock options were the main area that drove these outsized awards. “They got the options, the market collapsed, then it came back – and all of a sudden they were in the money again,” he said.

And there will be more to come. GMI, formerly known as the Corporate Library, is expecting a rash of massive stock option bonuses as many firms awarded their top executives big option deals when the stock markets hit their lows in 2007-2008.

“There’s still a lot of money just waiting in the market,” said Hodgson. He described the upcoming awards as a “bombshell” likely to dwarf this year’s figures.

2010 was a great year to lose your job as a CEO. Four of the 10 highest paid CEOs were retired or departing executives. Ronald Williams, former head of Aetna, a health insurer, exercised 2.4m options for a profit of $50.4m. Aetna’s stock price declined by 70% from when Williams assumed the role of CEO in February 2006 until his retirement. At pharmacy chain CVS, Thomas Ryan made a $28m profit on his options. During Ryan’s 13-year tenure as CEO, CVS Caremark’s stock price decreased almost 54%.

Omnicare’s Joel Gemunder retired last August and received cash severance of $16m, part of a final-year pay package worth $98.28m. Adam Metz, the former boss of General Growth Properties, a real estate company that specialises in shopping malls, walked away with a $46m cash bonus in 2010. GGP executives received nearly $115m in bonuses from the firm as it emerged from bankruptcy.

But this year’s top earner may have his biggest payday still to come. Hammergren is due a $469m payoff if McKesson changes ownership. “Boards make these decisions, but they don’t work out what happens if they stay in the job,” said Hodgson.

“If they had have done, one hopes, they would have looked at each other and said: ‘This is ridiculous.’”

Categories: News of the moment

Britain is ruled by the banks, for the banks.

Is David Cameron’s kid-glove treatment of the City remotely justified, when it neither pays its way nor lends effectively?

The City, London

The City, London . . . Britain’s finance sector contributes less to the country than manufacturing. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The national interest. It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot recently. David Cameron promised to defend it before flying off last week to Brussels. Eurosceptic backbenchers urged him to fight for it. And when the summit turned into a trial separation, and the prime minister walked out at 4am, the rightwing newspapers took up the refrain: he was fighting for Britain. In the eye-burningly early hours of Friday morning, exhausted and at a loss to explain a row he plainly hadn’t expected, Cameron tried again: “I had to pursue very doggedly what was in the British national interest.”

As political justifications go, the national interest is an oddly ceremonial one. Like the dusty liqueur uncapped for a family gathering, MPs bring it out only for the big occasions. And when they do, what they mean is: forget all the usual fluff about ethics and ideas; this is important.

You heard the phrase last May, as the Lib Dems explained why they were forming a coalition with the Tories. More seriously, Blair used it as Britain invaded Iraq.

But here Cameron wasn’t talking about foreign policy; nor about who governs the country. The national interest he saw as threatened by Europe is concentrated in a few expensive parts of London, in an industry that would surely come bottom in any occupational popularity contest (yes, lower even than journalists): investment banking.

In its haste to depict events as Little Britain v Big Europe, the Tory press hasn’t dwelt on the inconvenient details of last week’s fight. But it was only after the prime minister failed to secure protection for the City from new financial regulation mooted by the EU that he told Nicolas Sarkozy to get on his vélo.

On one issue in particular, Cameron had a good case: Britain wants banks to put more money aside for a rainy day than the EU is considering. Elsewhere, he just looked unreasonable – what exactly is wrong with having international banking supervision? One reason for the euro crisis was that its members have 17 national bank watchdogs and barely anyone looking across borders.

Step back from what even EU officials were calling “arcane” details, though, and the big principle is this: the prime minister effectively stuck relations with the rest of Europe in the deep freeze in order to protect one sector of the economy.

In my recollection, no British minister in recent times has termed one industry as being of “national interest”. “Vital” or “key”? Why, such words are the very currency of the MP’s address to a trade association. But on the big phrase, I asked the Guardian’s librarians to check the archives from 1997 onwards. They came back empty-handed.

Cameron is merely expressing more openly something Labour frontbenchers also believe: that the City is pretty much the last engine functioning in Britain’s misfiring economy. Indeed, one of the Labour lines of attack against Cameron this weekend has been that he has left the City more open to regulation.

A few weeks ago, the shadow chancellor Ed Balls warned against any further taxes on financial trading within Europe. However, he said, he would urge a “Robin Hood tax with the widest international agreement”. In other words, Balls will give his fullest support to something that has no chance of happening.

This is the same kind of political subservience towards the City, observed by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in its report into the collapse of RBS. According to the watchdog, a major reason why Fred Goodwin wasn’t checked as he drove RBS off a cliff was because of “a sustained political emphasis on the need for the FSA to be ‘light touch’ in its approach and mindful of London’s competitive position”. Had regulators been harder on the bankers, “it is almost certain that their proposals would have been met by extensive complaints that the FSA was pursuing a heavy-handed, gold-plating approach which would harm London’s competitiveness”.

As all British taxpayers know by now, securing the “competitiveness” of RBS has wound up costing us around £45bn.

So what is it that justifies the kid-glove treatment of the finance sector? Switch on the news and you normally hear some minister or lobbyist (come on down, Angela Knight of the British Bankers’ Association) talking about the vital contribution banking makes to employment. Our tax revenue. Or the role banks ideally play in directing money to needy businesses.

These claims are repeated so often that they rarely get even the briefest patdown from interviewers, let alone backbench MPs or economists. Yet they are largely bogus, as explained in a new book called After the Great Complacence, produced by academics at Manchester University’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (Cresc). Indeed, on nearly any important measure, finance actually contributes less to Britain than manufacturing.

Take jobs. The finance sector employs 1m people in Britain. Chuck in the lawyers, the PRs and the smaller fry that swim in its wake and you are up to a grand total of 1.5m. And most of these people are not the investment bankers for whom Cameron went to war in Brussels. At the big British banks such as RBS and HBOS, 80% of the staff work in the retail business. Even if Sarkozy were to shroud Canary Wharf in a giant tricolore, those staff would still be needed to staff the branches and man the call centres. Even in its current state of emaciation, manufacturing employs 2m people.

What about taxes? Lobbyists like to point out that banks are usually the biggest payers of corporation tax, but usually omit to mention that corporation tax isn’t that big a money-spinner. For their part, even leftwingers will usually assume that the bankers effectively paid for the tax credits, hospitals and schools we enjoyed under Labour.

It’s not true. The Cresc team totted up the taxes paid by the finance sector between 2002 and 2008, the six years in which the City was having an almighty boom: at £193bn, it’s still only getting on for half the £378bn paid by manufacturing. It would be more accurate to say that the widget-makers of the Midlands paid for Tony Blair’s welfarism. But that would be a much less picturesque description.

Even in the best of times, the finance sector hasn’t paid anything like as much to the state as the state has had to pay for them since the great crash. According to the IMF, British taxpayers have shelled out £289bn in “direct upfront financing” to prop up the banks since 2008. Add in the various government loans and underwriting, and taxpayers are on the hook for £1.19tn. Seen that way the City looks less like a goose that lays golden eggs, and more like an unruly pigeon that leaves one hell of a mess for others to clear up.

Ah, but what about lending? After all, this is why we have banks in the first place: to channel money to productive industries. The Cresc team looked at Bank of England figures on bank and building society loans and found that at the height of the bubble in 2007, around 40% or more of all bank and building society lending was on residential or commercial property. Another 25% of all bank lending went to financial intermediaries. In other words, about two-thirds of all bank lending in 2007 went to pumping up the bubble.

This doesn’t look like a hard-working part of an economy humming along: it’s nothing less than epic capitalist onanism.

If the statistics don’t support the arguments for the City’s pre-eminence, the public don’t either. In 1983, 90% of the public agreed that banks in Britain were well run, according to the British Social Attitudes survey. By 2009, that had plunged to 19%.

In other words, both the evidence and the voters are against investment bankers. So why do the politicians cling on to them?

Part of the answer is financial. Bankers used the boom to buy themselves influence – so that, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the City now provides half of all Tory party funds. That is up from just 25% only five years ago.

Another part must be cultural. Running this government are two sons of bankers. Cameron’s father was a stockbroker, Clegg’s is still chairman of United Trust Bank (and famously helped his son get some work experience). For its part, Labour spent so long outsourcing all economic thinking to Gordon Brown and Ed Balls that it has long lost the ability to argue against the orthodoxy of giving the City what it wants.

In a poorer country, the cosiness of relations between bankers and politicians would be scrutinised by an official from the World Bank and disdainfully pronounced as pure cronyism. In Britain, we need to come up with a new word for this type of dysfunctional capitalism – where banks neither lend nor pay their way in taxes, yet retain a stranglehold on policy-making. We could try bankocracy: ruled by the banks, for the banks.

What are the results of bankocracy? It means that the main figures arguing for a Robin Hood tax are the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Bill Nighy. It means that opposition to the rule of banks isn’t found in Westminster, but in tents outside St Paul’s or among a few grizzled academics and NGO-hands – with no political vehicle to carry them. Meanwhile, the politicians declare that the national interest of Britain can be defined by what suits one square mile of it.

Categories: News of the moment

The adventures of Tit Tit-Steve Bell’s “IF”

Steve Bell's If ... 12/12/11

Steve Bell's If… 13.12.2011

Steve Bell's If… 14.12.2011

Steve Bell's If… 15.12.2011

Categories: Cartoons

Steve Bell on David Cameron’s ‘Bulldog Spirit’ at EU Summit – cartoon.

December 15, 2011 1 comment

14.12.11: Steve Bell on David Cameron's 'bulldog spirit' at EU summit

Coalition rift widens over Britain’s isolation in Europe, with Nick Clegg refusing to sit beside PM during statement to parliament.

Categories: Cartoons
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