Sunday, February 3, 2013

I've moved!

Dear readers,

For anyone interested in my work I have relocated!

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

British army joins French for Mali Mission

Written for The Upcoming

The British Government has pledged to send British troops to Mali to support French and Malian troops in their attempt to wipe out Islamist insurgents and re-build political stability in Mali.

Britain pledges to send British troops into Mali to support French and Malian troops in their battle against Islamist insurgents. Photo: Magharebia
Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond today announced that Britain would send around 350 military personnel to Mali and the neighbouring African countries that border Mali. Whilst the large majority of personnel sent over will be British soldiers supporting French and African troops, at least 40 military advisors will reportedly join the group to further assist in the re-organisation of military and political structures once the insurgents have been removed.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced further support in the form of a £5 million aid package to assist the training of the African Forces. With £3 million going to the African – led intervention force (AFISMA), the other £2 million will be used to support the attempt to build political stability within Mali.
Britain’s announcement comes a week after the European Union pledged approximately €50 million to Mali and authorized a EU led initiative to assist the African country.
On the 17th January the Council of the European Union announced: “The Council today established a Common Security and Defense Policy Mission to support the training and reorganization of the Malian Armed Forces”.
Since French troops entered Mali on 16th January the situation has continued to escalate. Both the European Union and Britain’s decision to send armed forces to support French efforts seemingly reflect statements heard last week regarding the need for a tougher stance towards insurgents and terrorists alike.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Over 5000 job cuts announced by the Ministry of Defence

Written for The Upcoming
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) yesterday announced the decision to cut up to 5,300 jobs in 2013 as part of wider plans to restructure and reduce the Army by 2017.

The Ministry of Defence has announced the decision to cut up to 5,300 jobs as part of a wider plan to reduce Army numbers to 82,000 by 2017.
Photo: isafmedia
Hailed “the single biggest round of armed forces job losses under the coalition” by The Evening Standard, the radical job cuts are the third of their kind introduced by the government in an attempt to reduce Britain’s military forces from 102,000 to just 82, 000 by 2017.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond issued a statement saying: “The Army is actively managing recruitment to reach the target numbers, but unfortunately redundancies are unavoidable due to the size of the defence deficit that this Government inherited”.
The announcement of the decision to reduce overall military forces in 2012 raised concerns over whether or not Britain would be able to maintain its status as a great power.
Many have raised concerns that reducing Army numbers would reduce Britain’s ability to effectively deal with international threats such as the most recent hostage crisis that took place in Algeria.
The Telegraph yesterday reported that the Shadow Secretary of Defense, Jim Murphy, has criticized the government’s decision. In a video interview, the MP stated that the decision to reduce armed forces makes “no sense” in light of recent international events in North Africa.
Despite these concerns, however, Phillip Hammond spoke yesterday of the improvements that will be made to Britain’s forces as a result of the reduction.
According to the Defence Secretary, “We will have smaller armed forces but they will in the future be properly equipped and well-funded, unlike before”. The suggestion here, then, is that the smaller the forces, the more money can be spent on equipping them.
Whilst this may dampen concerns regarding Britain’s ability to defend itself, more pressing concerns amongst military families centre on what the future holds. Large numbers of families living on military bases face the prospect of losing not only an income, but also their home.
Whilst the MoD are looking to ensure that it is mainly those voluntarily applying for redundancies that make the cut, the vast number of planned cuts means that those not seeking redundancy may also be at risk.
For the time being the MoD have stated that: “Our aim now is to apply the process as fairly as possible and to prepare to support those individuals who are selected as they and their families transition to civilian life.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Have you been 'Spotted'?

Written for HuffPost UK. Featured on The Upcoming and Opinion Panel
For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with this term, “Spotted” is the latest university craze to grace our Facebook pages and highlights everything that is wrong with the “lad” culture that dominates British society today. 
Allowing students to send in anonymous messages on a Facebook page, “Spotted” began as a relatively harmless way to flirt with those you were too shy to approach, and provided entertainment for those stuck in the library revising for exams. What started off as a relatively low-key page for a single university has since spawned replica pages for universities such as York, Bath, Reading and Loughborough.
Set up under names such as Spotted: University of Bath Library Community andSpotted: Loughborough Students Union Shop, the pages predominantly feature messages to other students within the community. Facebook - Spotted 1
Posts such as the ones above are relatively harmless, yet these Facebook pages have led to far more worrying posts that highlight the problems Britain encounters with the rising “lad” culture that mistakes sexism, racism and outright bullying for “banter”. Although perhaps not quite as explicitly provocative as comments that were posted on the 2011 website (one post read “think about this mathematical statistic: 85 percent of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.”), comments that were once considered socially abhorrent and unacceptable are now considered to be “funny” and “banter”.
Comments relating to how someone looks, which sexual acts you would like to perform on them and slurs against someone’s ethnicity are amongst those considered to be acceptable material, and the more explicit you are the better. Take, for instance, the comments below. What should be considered as racial and sexual harassment and abuse is now considered to be the norm. At what point did this become acceptable? Facebook - Spotted 2
Speaking out against the “banter” culture in The Independent back in 2012, Hazel Morgan argued: “The modern student is living in a world defined by pictures of objectified women, directions on how to get laid, and why you should down as many Jagerbombs as possible on a night out.” Getting laid and getting drunk is one thing, but when did abuse under the all-forgiving guise of banter become a necessary part of social life? 
Whilst I’m sure many are reading this and thinking I am over-reacting, what we should focus on is where this attitude leads us. One has only to look at Twitter to see the damage that occurs when comments that cross the line go unpunished. Whilst 2012 saw the arrest of a handful of people using their Twitter accounts to abuse others, hundreds of thousands of comments went by unnoticed. 
Take, for instance, the abuse Louise Thompson got on Twitter last year after the UK show Made in Chelsea aired an episode in which she chose cast member Spencer Matthews over Jamie Laing. Numerous tweets branding Louise a “slut” and worse were sent without a thought. The social media networks set up to connect people are now being used to abuse them instead. 
Worse still, this attitude to flippant abuse under the banner of “having a laugh” pervades workplaces and social institutions with adverse affects. Looking at the comments on “Spotted” serves as a chilling reminder of the comments of Canadian police officer Michael Sanguinetti who stated: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” These particular comments led to worldwide protests, yet this attitude towards women is not unique. 
Speaking to a friend recently, I was told she constantly has to deal with jibes about her appearance in the workplace. One particular comment from a colleague – one male colleague deemed it acceptable to ask if she had left the rest of her skirt at home – hit home, yet when she complained to a workmate she was told that it was mere “banter”. 
Granted, “Spotted” is just a Facebook page for university students, but what it reveals should sound alarm bells. If we allow comments such as these to go unnoticed at this level, what message does that send? What is to stop those commenting on these university pages from carrying on in the workplace, and do we want to live in a society where adults and students alike find sexual harassment and racism acceptable? 
University officials at the universities of Bath, Loughborough and York have all taken action to try and close these pages. The reaction to this within the pages has been vitriolic. Do we want to live in a society like that? Just food for thought.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Cameron delays controversial EU speech as Algeria Crisis worsens

Written for The Upcoming
Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled his trip to Amsterdam where today he was due to speak about Britain’s future in the European Union. The decision to delay the much-anticipated speech has been attributed to the on-going crisis at a gas plant in Algeria where Islamist militants are holding several hostages.

The future of Britain and the European Union remains unannounced due to the decision to delay discussions in Amsterdam as the Algeria Crisis worsens. Photo: UK Department of Business
Whilst many were waiting to hear what Cameron had to say on future relations with the European Union, the Prime Minister chose to focus on the crisis at hand. Speaking to the nation yesterday, David Cameron warned that the situation in Algeria could quickly deteriorate.
In his announcement the Prime Minister described the developing situation as “very dangerous” and urged Britain “to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead”.The BP gas plant, which was attacked on Wednesday the 16th by gunmen linked to Al – Qaeda, has since been surrounded by Algerian troops who hope to relieve the situation as quickly as possible.
Reports from Algeria have confirmed the death of at least one British worker but as of yet, the number of hostages held at the gas plant is yet to be confirmed. Although the Islamist militants have claimed to be holding 41 foreigners, the exact number is not known with various publications and organisations reporting different figures.
Reasons behind the decision to attack the gas plant are unclear. Indeed whilst theBBC and The Guardian have indicated possible links to the situation in Mali others have suggested the decision to hold hostages indicates that ransom has been the motivation.
Whilst the crisis continues in Algeria, what Cameron’s position on the European Union and Britain’s relationship are remains to be seen, although extracts from Mr Cameron’s speech released on Thursday night reveal he intended to set out a“positive vision for the future of the European Union. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part”.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Obama to unveil gun control plan in the wake of school attack

Written for The Upcoming

US President Barack Obama is today set to unveil long-awaited proposals to reform gun control laws in the United States. The President’s gun control plan is due to be announced at 11:45 Eastern Time (16:45 GMT) according to the BBC and is expected to face stiff opposition from gun lobbyists and members of Congress.

Obama today unveils his proposals to reform gun control laws amidst divided opinion on how best to prevent mass shooting like Newton from occurring again.
Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP
The decision to unveil proposals to reform deeply rooted gun laws follows the mass shooting that took place last month at Sandy Hook in Newton, Connecticut. The President has previously suggested he supports the introduction of a ban on assault weapons and ammunition and, in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, indicated his willingness to change current gun legislation.
Indeed, in his address to the nation back in December, Obama stated: “Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting…we can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change”.
Whilst many, including expatriate Piers Morgan, have publicly supported legislation reform the decision to restrict access to guns, if pursued by Obama, faces huge opposition throughout the US.
Despite warnings from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that “gun violence is one of the leading causes of premature mortality in the US” and that “the higher prevalence of gun ownership and much less restrictive gun laws are important reasons why violent crime in the US is so much more lethal”,there are many that argue attempts to change the laws directly infringes upon the nation’s right to bear arms as laid out in the Second Amendment of the American Constitution.
With calls to protect the nation from further mass shootings on the one hand and calls to protect the right to bear arms on the other, Obama faces a rocky road in his attempt to change the laws.

Will Lance Armstrong admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs on Oprah?

Written for The Upcoming and featured on Huff Post UK
The U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong, who last year was stripped of 7 Tour De France titles as a result of doping charges, looks set to admit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in order to return to the other sporting activities – such as triathlon – that he enjoys.
Due to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show that airs on Thursday 17th January, a statement released by the TV network has promised a “no holds barred” interview with the athlete, leading to speculation that Armstrong plans to, at least partially, admit his guilt and apologize to the general public. This was further reinforced after reports that Armstrong apologized to the staff at Livestrong Foundation – the not-for-profit support network for cancer sufferers, founded by Armstrong –  for “letting them down” were released earlier this week indicating that perhaps Thursday’s interview will once and for all put an end to speculation regarding Armstrong’s history of alleged doping and drug abuse.

Lance Armstrong’s long-anticipated appearance on Oprah could bring an end to speculation about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Glancing back over the athlete’s career, allegations and complaints regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs have dogged Armstrong. Indeed, back in 1999, Armstrong was accused of doping, whilst in 2010 cyclist Floyd Landis accused Armstrong of taking prohibited drugs. Although the US Federal investigation failed to find any conclusive evidence to support allegations against Armstrong, the inquiry lasted two years and by the time it had ended, the U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had taken the decision to open up their own investigation.
Although at the time the USADA announced the decision to open the investigation, Armstrong released a statement calling the charges “baseless” and “motivated by spite and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity”, he has since remained silent. When offered the opportunity to come forward and acknowledge any wrongdoing, the cyclist instead chose not to contest the evidence compiled against him and accepted the disqualification of his sporting achievements alongside a lifelong ban from recognised sporting competitions.
The decision to appear on the popular television show this week, therefore, has caused controversy and divided public opinion. Whilst many have maintained Armstrong’s innocence and protested against the decision to ban the athlete from all sporting competitions, others cite the statement released by the USADA, which branded Armstrong and the US Postal Service’s cycling team’s doping program as “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”, as reason to question Armstrong’s reputation.
For the time being at least, Armstrong is caught between a rock and a hard place. If no admission or apology is made, Armstrong is set to disappoint thousands of viewers yet if he does indeed admit to doping allegations, even partially, he could face fines from newspapers who printed the allegations, amongst which are The Sunday Timeswho are seeking to recover approximately $500,000 paid out in a libel lawsuit against them, as well as legal cases for perjury. Furthermore, Armstrong could run the risk of re-opening a full investigation following any admission of guilt, true or false.
Indeed, Armstrong’s motivation for appearing on Oprah has been linked to his desire to return to competitive sports and some publications have suggested that the cyclist is “giving in”, as Armstrong’s guilt has never been conclusively proved, in order to overturn a lifelong ban. That this can even be considered to be a possibility in this case raises serious questions over the sport industry’s rulings on performance-enhancing drugs on two different levels.

Many are questioning whether Armstrong should be allowed to return to sport if he admits to doping after staying silent for so long.
Firstly, the decision made the USADA to open an investigation against Armstrong following the ruling by US Federals that no substantial evidence had been found to support allegations made in 2010 has led to questions over whether officials can open another case regarding the same issue. Whilst in most criminal law cases a person cannot be investigated more than once for the same crime following an acquittal, sporting organizations have in the past chosen to pursue their own investigations following court decisions.
Indeed, this was the case for John Terry back in 2012, according to theLaw in Sport website. When the Football Association decided to pursue their own investigation following Terry’s acquittal of any charges filed against him, calls were made to introduce a “double jeopardy law” into sporting regulations that would prevent sportsmen from facing more than one investigation into the same alleged offence. With this in mind, should the USADA have pursued an investigation into Armstrong?
Secondly, the USADA decision to pursue a case against Armstrong has sparked debate into whether regulations regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs need to be radically updated. Back in 2012, Chris Smith of Forbes called for the legalization of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. Arguing that “stiff punishments have done little to reduce the number of cyclists caught cheating every year”,Smith suggests that in legalizing certain drugs, distribution and categorization would improve making the drugs easier to regulate and ultimately levelling the playing field.
Armstrong’s appearance on Oprah is set to divide opinion further, with many wondering if the athlete should be able to compete if he does admit his guilt after remaining silent for so long. Whilst Armstrong remains silent, all we can do is speculate over his innocence, whether he will be allowed to return to sports or even if sporting regulations should be updated. One thing is for sure; Thursday looks set to ruffle some feathers among the sporting world.