-----Original Message-----

Subject: Enriching the rich in the US - but what about the rest?
From: Trevor <>
To: Linda.Yueh <>
Date: 15-02-2015 09:11:22

Dear Linda.Yueh,

In your article "Enriching the rich in the US - but what about the rest?"<http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31377189> you sketch the problem of a rising economic inequality and state: "America terms itself the land of opportunity where anyone can have a house with a white picket fence and a good job. However, that dream is getting harder to reach for many Americans - while the rich continue to get richer as median wages continue to stagnate."

From my personal experience, I would say that one of the most pernicious aspects of western culture is the obsessive belief in a homogenous universe -operating on the basis of "universal truth".
From this perspective, the question is perhaps not so much the difficulty of realizing the American dream -but the actual desirability of the dream.

I suspect that many people in the world -certainly if giving an informed opinion -might not subscribe to the middle class dream at all.

In a developing country, this question is particularly important as long as the global economic system continues to systematically undermine the traditional values of indigenous societies based on other social axioms than the American dream (or nightmare).

In England, the bucolic dream often seems to live on in many ways within a highly urbanized society. In China, for example, one can imagine that the conflict between peasant and middle class is even more apparent (and perhaps even fundamental to the future of the country).

From the experience of working on my own "Project Land" <http://tebatt.net/PROJECTS/PROJECT_HOMEFARM/Project_LAND/ProjectLand.html> and "project Home Farm" <http://www.tebatt.net/PROJECTS/PROJECT_HOMEFARM/HomeFarm.html> I am beginning to suspect that perhaps among the various UN sanctioned "Human Rights" there should be a right to poverty -a basic human right to be excluded from a rapacious global economic system based on greed and profit at the cost of those who see more valuable things in life that are more worth striving for.

Yours sincerely,
Trevor Batten


Richest 1% to own more than rest of world, Oxfam says


The wealthiest 1% will soon own more than the rest of the world's population, according to a study by anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The charity's research shows that the share of the world's wealth owned by the richest 1% increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% last year.

On current trends, Oxfam says it expects the wealthiest 1% to own more than 50% of the world's wealth by 2016.

The research coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The annual gathering attracts top political and business leaders from around the world.

Oxfam's executive director Winnie Byanyima, who will co-chair the Davos event, said she would use the charity's high-profile role at the gathering to demand urgent action to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

In a statement ahead of the gathering, Ms Byanyima said the scale of global inequality was "simply staggering".

"It is time our leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world.

"Business as usual for the elite isn't a cost-free option - failure to tackle inequality will set the fight against poverty back decades. The poor are hurt twice by rising inequality - they get a smaller share of the economic pie and because extreme inequality hurts growth, there is less pie to be shared around," she added.

Rich getting richer

The charity is calling on governments to adopt a seven-point plan to tackle inequality, including a clampdown on tax evasion by companies and the move towards a living wage for all workers.

Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with the revelation that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people).

It said that that comparison had now become even more stark, with the 80 richest people having the same wealth as the poorest 50%.

Analysis: Robert Peston, BBC Economics editor

To be clear, Oxfam's claim today that by 2016 the richest 1% could own as much or the same as the bottom 99% is not wildly implausible.

There are all sorts of reasons why such increases in inequality are troubling, and not just for those at the bottom of the income and wealth pyramid.

One is that aspirational people on lower incomes have massive incentives to take on too-great debts to support their living standards - which exacerbates the propensity of the economy to swing from boom to financial-crisis bust.

Another is that the poor in aggregate spend more than the rich (there are only so many motor cars and yachts a billionaire can own, so much of the super-rich's wealth sits idle. as it were), and therefore growth tends to be faster when income is more evenly distributed.

Robert Peston: Why extreme inequality hurts the rich

The charity said the research, published on Monday, showed that 52% of global wealth not owned by the richest 1% is owned by those in the richest 20%.

The remaining population accounts for just 5.5% of global wealth, and their average wealth was $3,851 (£2,544) per adult in 2014, Oxfam found.

That compares with an average wealth of $2.7m per adult for the elite 1%.

The study comes just a day before US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, in which he is expected to call for tax increases on the wealthy to help the middle class.

In October, a report from banking giant Credit Suisse also said that the richest 1% of people own nearly half of the world's wealth.

Increase in wealth of richest 10 billionaires (ranked 2013)

Billionaire Wealth in 2013 ($bn) Wealth in 2014 ($bn) Increase Nationality

Source: Oxfam, Forbes

Warren Buffett





Michael Bloomberg





Carl Icahn





Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud




Saudi Arabia

George Soros





Joseph Safra





Luis Carlos Sarmiento





Mikhail Prokhorov





Alexey Mordashov





Abigail Johnson





Your comments (866)
Global wealth

48% owned by richest 1% in 2014

54% owned by richest 1% by 2020

  • $1.9tn wealth of 80 top billionaires - equal to bottom 50% of rest of world

  • $600bn increase in wealth for 80 top billionaires in 4 years - or 50% rise

  • $750bn drop in wealth for the poorest 50% of the world in 4 years



Why extreme inequality hurts the rich


"We could have developed a vaccine for Ebola years ago if we had chosen to allocate the resources to the appropriate research".

That is what a senior and respected medical scientist, a man who would be seen as a world authority on such matters, said to me.

So why wasn't the cure found?

The relevant research didn't happen because Ebola was seen for a long time to be a disease only of the poor, especially in Africa - and therefore the giant pharmaceutical manufacturers couldn't see how to make big money out of an Ebola medicine.

Today of course it is clear that Ebola is a global threat - and hence there is a mad rush to find a treatment.

What the preventable tragedy of Ebola shows is that in a globalised world the interests of rich and poor are frequently the same - although it is hard for businesses to recognise this mutuality of interest when driven to make short-term profits.

This solidarity between those with least and those (us) with most is also lost when governments are under pressure from voters to use tax revenues only in ways that demonstrably benefit a domestic population.

Perhaps the most important point is that when decisions about who gets what or how investment funds are allocated are left to markets, the outcome may seem to benefit only the rich but the consequence may end up hurting rich and poor alike.

Which is a powerful argument for why the widening gap between the rich and poor, in wealth and income, is bad for everyone - even the super wealthy, unless that is they never want to leave their fortified, hermetically sealed, lavishly appointed bunkers.

The point is that the operation of markets in the circumstances of modern globalisation both leads to extreme concentrations of wealth and increasingly irrational outcomes when it comes to the dispersion of funds to combat threats or promote public goods.

It is one of the reasons why the likes of the IMF and senior politicians of left and right are no longer blithely regarding the widening gap between rich and poor as a perhaps irksome but nonetheless necessary spin-off of the greater imperative of promoting growth.

Partly it is just the jaw-dropping pace and scale of how a century of narrowing inequalities has gone into dramatic reverse.

To be clear, Oxfam's claim today that by 2016 the richest 1% could own as much or the same as the bottom 99% is not wildly implausible.

Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report for 2014 showed that the 0.7% of the world's people with assets more than $1m controlled 44% of all the world's wealth.

And recent influential research by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, of the University of California, Berkeley and the LSE respectively, shows that America's top 0.1% - or 160,000 families who are worth $73m each on average - hold more than a fifth of all US wealth, the same proportion as the bottom 90% of America's people.

There are all sorts of reasons why such increases in inequality are troubling, and not just for those at the bottom of the income and wealth pyramid.

One is that aspirational people on lower incomes have massive incentives to take on too-great debts to support their living standards - which exacerbates the propensity of the economy to swing from boom to financial-crisis bust.

Another is that the poor in aggregate spend more than the rich (there are only so many motor cars and yachts a billionaire can own, so much of the super-rich's wealth sits idle. as it were), and therefore growth tends to be faster when income is more evenly distributed.

So President Obama's State of the Union address, which is expected to contain a proposal to tax the assets of the wealthy, perhaps should be seen as a belated attempt to promote economic and social stability that would benefit even the wealthy - who will nonetheless attempt to stymie him in Congress.

As it happens I am in the process of finishing a two-part Radio 4 documentary about all of this, due for broadcast in a few weeks.

And what is striking is the growing realisation - even by the extreme privileged, who are about to fly in their private jets to Davos to save the world from itself, at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum - that it is no longer enough simply to argue that equality of opportunity is all that matters.

Or rather, there can be little equality of opportunity in a world where there is the kind of inequality of outcome we haven't seen since the early decades of the last century.

Your comments (51)


Davos: The case for and against going to WEF


Every year top political and business leaders from around the world gather in the small Swiss ski-resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum.

It is the biggest event of its kind, and participants say it's not to be missed if you want to both be in touch with what's happening in the world and, more importantly, influence it.

Its detractors say it is a talking-shop where nothing gets done.

We hear from the two opposing views.

The founder of Yo! Sushi and Yotel, Simon Woodroffe explains why he's got better things to do, while Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever, the company behind Marmite, PG Tips and Persil, sets out why he sees it as vital for improving the world.

Simon Woodroffe OBE Founder of Yo! Sushi and YOTEL

"We live in a world where everybody has an opinion on everything and if they haven't, they make it up. I know this is true because I have done it myself and anyway there is a statistic that, as I remember, proves that most statistics are made up.

I have taken to saying 'I don't know' to things about which I am not well educated, to avoid the cacophony of confusion that too many opinions create. I would prefer to support those I like who are in the know. That is the reason you will not find me in Davos this week.

And call me an optimist, but I look forward to the day that we choose and pay our leaders well, and then encourage them, rather than cheering the press to bring them down like gladiators of old, while we, the public, cheer from the stands.

Hardly a way a successful business would operate and I don't think the late Steve Jobs would have stood for it, which of course is why he, and I and many others steer clear of political office, of which Davos is a playground.

It is a pity because, here in the UK, the one thing we don't lack is talent and the desire for change for the good, including, in my experience, amongst those from the post dot.com generation.

'Over-inflated egos'

What I have found makes the most difference is doing things. Felix Dennis, the late publisher whose poetry I like, wrote

Ideas we've had 'em

Since Eve first met Adam

But take it from me

Execution's the key

So while they are all out in Davos, where perhaps a few fruitful initiatives will be hatched in quiet rooms by thoughtful people, but for the most part over inflated egos will get further blown up and popped, I will endeavour, as I do, to make small moves that make a difference down here on the playing field and perhaps inspire the people that I meet to do the same.

Like the boy scouts of my childhood, imagine a world in which everyone looked to do one good turn a day.

Felix ended his poem, which is called "How to get Rich", like this:

The first step

Just do it

And bluff your way through it

Remember to duck

God speed and good luck

That's what the real entrepreneurs at the coal faces will be doing this week."

Paul Polman Chief executive, Unilever

"I am attending Davos because there is simply too much at stake. The world has always faced challenges, but never so many at once.

Rising unemployment, poverty, food security, climate change and geopolitical uncertainty. Our economic system is not quite working. Certainly not for all. On top of that, the population is expected to grow by another 30% by 2050, putting even more strain on finite resources.

We have the unique opportunity to be the first generation to bring an end to poverty and the last to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

It's a business, as well as a moral, argument. You can't have a healthy business in an unhealthy world.

I believe business is a big part of the solution. But to really make a difference globally, we need to build partnerships. That's what happens at Davos. It brings together young entrepreneurs, leading NGOs, the UN secretary general and presidents of over 60 countries. We simply cannot do it alone.

At Unilever we reach two billion consumers a day and want to continue serving them in years to come. To do that we've adopted a new kind of business model, helping them to live more sustainably, decoupling growth from our environmental footprint and increasing positive social impact.

We can do our bit through our own operations - empowering women in our supply chain which drives economic development; sourcing raw materials sustainably.

But also through our products - such as fortifying our food brands with extra nutrients to tackle under-nutrition; creating products that use less water; developing more effective soaps and detergents to improve hygiene and sanitation and help fight disease.

'Co-ordinated and ambitious'

We go to Davos to do this and to represent people who can't be there - those who live in poverty or are too hungry to go to school, those who may not even have made it beyond the age of five due to malnutrition, natural disasters or simply poor sanitation.

Actions there can make a tangible difference. Deforestation blights entire communities and contributes up to 15% of all emissions.

Last year, actions at Davos led to over 170 key players committing to ending deforestation by 2030. Great strides were also made on food security and the Grow Africa initiative helped mobilise investment pledges of more than $10 billion by over 160 companies. The Scaling Up Nutrition plan to stop stunting was also accelerated there.

Of course we need action on the ground. But we also need to be co-ordinated and ambitious.

And there is no better time.

Later this year, world leaders will meet to agree a new development agenda and binding climate deal. The outcomes will decide the lives of many.

I urge people not to stand at the sidelines - but to get involved and work together. That's what I'll be doing this week."


A Richer World... but for whom?


The BBC's new A Richer World season is exploring global wealth, poverty and inequality. But what exactly does a richer world mean?

We are getting richer. Not every human being on the planet and not every country. But the average person has an economic standard of living that's far better than it used to be.

One way of measuring it is to look at the amount of goods and services produced per person - gross domestic product or GDP per capita.

For the global population that rose almost fourfold in the 60 years up to 2010.

There were some marked divergences between countries. In China the increase was a stunning eighteen-fold. South Korea and Taiwan managed even more. On average, they are 25 times richer than in 1950.

A few countries, mainly in Africa, lost ground. In the Democratic Republic of Congo average living standards fell by more than half in the same period.

These figures do need some health warnings. They don't capture intangible things that affect the quality of life, such as the strength of communities or environmental standards. There are also some technical issues about comparing everything in dollars and adjusting for inflation, to get a "real terms" comparison, over a long period.

But they are taken from what is probably the most highly regarded source for historical economic data, a project established by the late Prof Angus Maddison. And the story they tell is clear. In economic terms we are better off.

One benefit from that is that we are living longer. In the middle of the last century a new-born baby could expect to live 50 years. Now the figure is 70. Once again there are large variations between countries but the favourable trend in that period is present in almost every nation - Botswana is the only one where life expectancy declined (by a few months).

There are many factors behind longer lives, but economic growth means we can spend more on our health, on nutrition and on ensuring that we have safe clean water to drink.

Car ownership

We get a similar story of rising living standards if we zoom in a little more closely. Car ownership increased by 30% in the first seven yars of the century before dipping a little in the global recession. The increase was especially marked in middle and low income countries.

Turning back to those admittedly rather rough and ready average figures for living standards, GDP per capita, there's another reason they don't tell the whole story. They tell us nothing about the distribution of income, or about changing patterns of inequality.

You can have rising average standards of living if the people with the highest incomes get richer, even if others don't.

Take the United States (because there is a lot of data available). In 2013, the real (inflation adjusted) income for a household 20% from the bottom of the income distribution (technically, at the first quintile) had risen by 1.4% over the previous 40 years. For a rich household (the 95th percentile) the figure was 44%.

Figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) also point to rising inequality among its member countries, which are the rich nations and some of the leading emerging economies. The graph uses a measure called the Gini coefficient. The larger the number, the more unequal the distribution of income - and it has risen in recent years.

There is of course a debate, a rather vigorous one, to be had about just how bad a thing rising inequality really is. That is even more true of the question of what, if any, government policies should be employed to tackle it.

Rising inequality is a reminder that, richer though the world is, some people don't feel it.


Davos: Bosses 'less optimistic' about global economy


Chief executives are less optimistic about the economy this year than last, a survey unveiled at the World Economic Forum suggests.

PwC's annual survey shows that just 37% think the economy will improve in 2015, down from 44% last year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia's bosses have gone from the most confident to the least, due to problems caused by sanctions and the falling oil price.

In the UK, concern had risen sharply about the availability of talent.

The number of chief executives concerned about the skills gap rose from 64% last year to 84% this year. That is considerably higher than in Germany, France or Spain.

This was partly put down to the high level of employment in the UK, which means that there is a smaller pool of workers to choose from, and partly due to concerns about the education system.

On a global level, the biggest worries that chief executives have are geo-political uncertainties, over-regulation and cyber security.

The report, which was launched at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, said that "concerns about cyber threats have shot up most compared to last year - and in light of the recent attacks on gaming and entertainment networks, the perceived risk will only increase".

Emerging markets

Dennis Nally, chairman of PwC said: "CEO confidence is down notably in oil-producing nations around the world as a result of plummeting crude oil prices. Russia CEOs, for example, were the most confident in last year's survey, but are the least confident this year.

"Confidence has also slipped among CEOs in the Middle East, Venezuela, and Nigeria," he said.

He also pointed out that there appeared to a shift in confidence from emerging market to western markets.

Chief executives ranked the US as their most important market for growth over the next year, putting it ahead of China for the first time in the five years that the question has been asked.

PwC interviewed more than 1,300 chief executives in 77 countries for the survey. It was carried in the final three months of 2014.


Davos: Western world ‘vulnerable’ to epidemics, warns Ebola expert


The Western world is "vulnerable" to epidemics such as Ebola, and must invest more in researching vaccines, a leading scientist has warned.

Professor Peter Piot told the BBC that developed nations would be in "deep trouble" if they failed to adequately prepare for another outbreak.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, he urged global leaders to take a "long-term view".

Public health policies must "transcend politics and borders", he said.

Prof Piot co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, and is now in charge of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

He said the UK was relatively well prepared for an outbreak, and praised NHS staff who travelled to West Africa to combat the recent Ebola epidemic.

The threat of Ebola, and other infectious diseases such as influenza and SARS, are set to be discussed in Switzerland this week, as politicians and business leaders from around the globe gather for the annual WEF.

'We weren't prepared'

Prof Piot, who will address the WEF alongside leaders of pharmaceutical companies and West African leaders, said he wanted audiences to understand that "we weren't prepared enough" for the Ebola outbreak that spread across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia last year.

Sitting in the heart of Davos' main conference centre, the affable Belgian, who previously helped lead the World Health Organisation's fight against AIDS, said: "I bet everything I have that there will be other outbreaks".

"Our world is getting more vulnerable to big epidemics, because of population expansion, huge mobility and more intense contact between animals and people.

"My concern," he said, "is that when [the Ebola outbreak] is over we will just forget about it. We need to be better prepared and we need to invest in vaccines and treatment.

"It's like a fire brigade - you don't start to set up a fire brigade when some house is on fire."

Prof Piot praised the work done institutions such as the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but he said that Europe needed a force that can be deployed to countries beyond its borders when infectious diseases spread.

"There is always tension between the sovereignty of a country and the need to fight epidemics because they are a risk for the world as a whole… in economic terms, its a global public good."

Drugs firms

Speaking of the time he discovered Ebola, Prof Piot said that "after the first outbreak in 1976 we all thought this is a virus that is actually relatively easy to contain".

He said: "I never thought it could affect entire nations, capital cities".

But Prof Piot said pharmaceutical companies were not to blame for failing to develop a vaccine for Ebola in the four decades since.

Until the recent outbreak in West Africa, there was "neither a commercial incentive nor a public health rationale for dealing with Ebola," he explained.

However Prof Piot did have some good news to impart - he was cheered by the Ebola vaccine trials currently taking place.

"When there will be the next Ebola epidemic, we will have a vaccine."


EU-Russia row: Serbia offers to bang heads together


"I think the presidents should be locked up in a room until they come up with a solution," says Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic of the leaders of Russia and the European Union.

Serbia certainly has the credentials to act as honest broker in the dispute that has arisen over the conflict in Ukraine.

It has just completed its first year of formal negotiations to join the EU. But it is maintaining its strong ties with Russia and refusing to implement sanctions, despite pressure from Brussels.

President Nikolic is well-known for his plain-speaking style, occasionally landing in diplomatic hot water as a result.

But this time, in an interview with the BBC, he is offering Serbia's services in solving a deepening conflict, rather than proposing the detention of some fellow heads of state.

Significantly, Serbia has just taken the chair of the OSCE, the intergovernmental security organisation which is currently monitoring the situation in Ukraine.

Mr Nikolic admits that his country is in an awkward situation, with two of its most important partners at loggerheads, and he sees it as a major challenge.

"It's like having two children - you can't disown one of them," he says.

"We cannot sever our traditional ties with Russia. Our people would never forgive us."

But he hopes Serbia can help the EU and Russia remember their common interests - not least in terms of energy.

The dispute has led to the cancellation of Russia's South Stream pipeline, which would have provided Serbia with a major infrastructure project as well as improved energy security.

If a solution to the crisis could be found, it would also reduce the pressure on the government in Belgrade to align its foreign policy with Brussels.

The further Serbia moves towards membership of the EU, the harder it will become to take a diplomatic line out of step with the 28-member bloc's common policy.

Still, Mr Nikolic believes accession is still some way off.

An initial target of 2020 always seemed optimistic, but so far none of the 35 "chapters" covering what Serbia must do to achieve membership has opened for negotiation.

"I'm happy with Serbia's pace of meeting the requirements - and how the EU has been treating us," he says.

"But the pace seems to be slow and it's not down to Serbia to make it any quicker. That's up to the EU."


Yemen crisis: Chaos is security nightmare for US


Yemen is in turmoil.

Both its president and government are reported to have resigned amid a stand-off with Shia rebels, the Houthis, who have taken control of the capital.

The army has all but melted away but the Sunni tribes, encouraged by al-Qaeda, are busy mobilising to confront the Houthis as they push east.

The entire framework for one of Washington's most important security partners in a dangerous region is now in serious danger of falling apart.

Why does Yemen matter to Washington and the West? After all, this is not Kuwait. Yemen is not a rich country, in fact it is the poorest in the Arab world. Its dwindling oil exports are expected to run out altogether before 2020.

But Yemen sits at the extreme southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, right on the strategic Bab El Mandeb Strait, separating the Middle East from Africa, where an estimated 20,000 ships pass annually through the strategic bottleneck between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and beyond, the Suez Canal.

Yemen's second city, Aden, was once a major bunkering port for ships making the long passage from Europe to India. Today, sadly, that city is a sleepy backwater where flamingos feed on deserted mudflats as most vessels steam past, giving it a wide berth.

The US Navy in particular has avoided it since 2000 when al-Qaeda suicide bombers rammed a boat full of explosives into a billion-dollar destroyer, the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors.

For most Yemenis, their daily preoccupation is simply how to get by in a crumbling economy beset with corruption. Many rely on remittances sent from relatives working in the Gulf.

But for Washington there is a different preoccupation: Yemen is home to what Western intelligence analysts consider to be the most dangerous franchise of al-Qaeda. AQAP stands for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance formed in 2009 between violent Yemeni and Saudi Islamists.

International reach

AQAP's local focus is on seizing and holding tribal territory in the under-governed spaces of Marib, al-Bayda and Shabwa provinces.

Periodically it sends suicide bombers into the capital, Sanaa, to kill dozens of policemen and other security officials. It has also carried out the abduction and assassination of intelligence officials, sometimes using assassins on motorbikes.

But AQAP continues to grab the attention of the CIA and the Pentagon's JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) because of its international reach.

Earlier this month it claimed to be behind the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, although it has yet to offer any substantive proof.

But three times now AQAP has successfully smuggled viable bombs onboard aircraft on international flights. The first exploded in or on an al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia in 2009, narrowly missing the Saudi counter-terrorism chief.

The next got as far as Detroit where the so-called "underpants bomber" tried unsuccessfully to light a device concealed in his underwear as the plane descended to land.

And then in 2010, AQAP smuggled bombs hidden in printer ink toner cartridges on US-bound cargo planes that got as far as East Midlands Airport and Dubai before an intelligence tipoff alerted the authorities.

The group has vowed to keep trying and it is believed they have shared their bomb making expertise with cells in northern Syria.

Covert operations

Washington has spent more than a decade helping the Yemeni government build up its counter-terrorism capabilities.

US Special Forces have been discreetly training the Yemenis at a base outside the capital, while the US, Saudi Arabia and Yemen all co-operate on conducting airstrikes by unmanned Reaper drones on suspected militants in remote areas.

The drone strikes are highly controversial and have killed dozens of civilians over the years, according to local tribes. In 2011, one killed a US citizen - AQAP's Anwar Al-Awlaki.

But the current political and security upheaval in Yemen means that a question mark now hangs over who Washington should partner with and for how long its security cooperation can last in this troubled country.

The nightmare scenario, both for Washington, its Gulf Arab allies, and for Yemen, is that the country erupts into a civil war pitting the Shia Houthis - suspected of being backed by Iran - against Sunni tribes backed by al-Qaeda.

Little wonder that the US Navy now has two amphibious warships poised offshore to evacuate its nationals if the situation continues to deteriorate.


Liam Neeson under fire from Taken 3 gun makers


The firearms company that provided the guns for Liam Neeson's Hollywood movie Taken 3 has criticised the star for his comments about US gun laws.

PARA USA said it "regrets" working with Neeson after he said the proliferation of guns in the US was a "disgrace".

The company added that it would cut ties with the Taken franchise and urged other companies to do the same.

"There's just too many... guns out there," Neeson told Dubai's Gulf News last week. "Especially in America."

He continued: "I think the population is like, 320 million? There's over 300 million guns. Privately owned, in America.

"I think it's a disgrace. Every week now we're picking up a newspaper and seeing, 'Yet another few kids have been killed in schools.'"

Neeson made his comments in reply to a question about the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris earlier in the month.

The star, who took on the role of ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills in all three Taken films, said the gun problem was not connected to Hollywood's action movies.

'Factual ignorance'

"I grew up watching cowboy movies, loved doing that [gun gesture] with my fingers, 'Bang, bang, you're dead!' I didn't end up a killer," he said.

"A character like Bryan Mills going out with guns and taking revenge: it's fantasy."

PARA USA said Neeson's comments reflected a "cultural and factual ignorance that undermines support of the Second Amendment and American liberties".

On their Facebook page, the company added: "We will no longer provide firearms for use in films starring Liam Neeson and ask that our friends and partners in Hollywood refrain from associating our brand and products with his projects."

The latest film in the action Taken franchise, which sees Neeson's ex-CIA agent framed for the murder of a loved one, has topped the box office charts in both the US and the UK.


The cigarettes that worry tobacco firms



Tobacco companies are warning of an increase in smuggling if the UK passes a law removing branding from cigarette packets. This is what happened when Australia shifted to plain packaging in 2012, it's been reported, and the biggest rise was found in sales of brands known as "illicit whites". Elle Metz asks why.

The most popular illegally sold cigarette brand in Australia is called Manchester, according to a 2013 study by KPMG. It's not a counterfeit - it's not designed to resemble a cigarette manufactured by a different company - but the packet is made to look entirely traditional.

"A rich blend of the finest tobacco result in this smooth and satisfying flavour," reads the blurb on its packages.

"Manufactured under authority from J.S.S. Tobacco Ltd. London - United Kingdom."

The grammar is not perfect, perhaps, but otherwise the packet looks smart. It even carries a health warning.

Experts had predicted that the new rules would lead to a sharp increase in counterfeit cigarette sales - after all, plain packaging is easy to imitate.

Instead the main beneficiaries were these "illicit whites" - cigarettes that may be produced legally but are "typically not sold legally anywhere and are often made exclusively for smuggling", as KPMG puts it.

Overall sales of illicit whites quadrupled between 2012 and mid-2013 according to the KPMG researchers, whose report was commissioned by tobacco companies (and is therefore taken with a pinch of salt by some academics).

The illegal cigarettes sold for about half the price of a popular legal brand such as Marlboro or Winfield, the study noted. Manchester was even found to have ended up with a higher market share than some legal brands.

Other less common illicit whites had names such as Timeless Time, Sunlite and Win.

Dr Crawford Moodie of the University of Stirling points out that illicit whites will generally have a price advantage if they are legal at the point of manufacture, as they often are. Some reports suggest Manchester cigarettes - thought to be legally manufactured in the United Arab Emirates, China and the Philippines - can even be legally sold in some Asian countries.

By contrast counterfeit cigarettes are illegal wherever they are produced, and this introduces risks and extra costs.

Also, in a country of plain cigarette packs like Australia, "fully branded packs are going to stand out," Moodie says. They would be "easy to recognise", and while this may contribute to their appeal it also makes them easier for the authorities to detect.


Boko Haram 'raping our daughters' in Nigerian town of Baga


Boko Haram carried out one of its deadliest attacks yet earlier this month, on the Nigerian town of Baga. It is difficult to verify the number of people killed but one woman who survived the attacks has told the BBC Hausa service about life in the town. She managed to escape from Baga and has asked to remain unnamed.

"Boko Haram fighters are currently in control of the town. When they attacked, they destroyed shops and burnt down our houses.

There are lots of bodies scattered on the street and some have started decomposing.

The militants gathered the old men who could not leave the town and some strong women and forced them to bury the corpses because of the stench - I saw all of this.

Under control

Many of the women could not escape during the attack and we were all brought with the old men to the palace of the traditional ruler.

I spent a week there.

In the mornings and evenings the insurgents would gather the women together and preach to them.

Two days after the attack, a man who claimed to be Abubakar Shekau [the leader of Boko Haram] came and addressed us. He said: "Today, where is your government from local to highest level? You are now under our control." And he preached to us.

After that, Shekau and many of the insurgents left the town in the hands of some Boko Haram members who are from Baga.

These men have taken control of the young women in the town. They rape and abuse our daughters.

In the evening they choose ones who are neither pregnant nor nursing mothers and take them away. They don't bring them back until the morning. If it is not rape what are they doing to them?


But there are some young women who show interest in the Boko Haram militants and want to marry them. I saw about 25 of them who were having good relationships with them.

The Boko Haram fighters have also taken over the hospitals. In the mornings, the militants come and ask if there is any woman who is not feeling well and they take her to hospital.

They took away all the goods in the market before destroying it. I counted close to 20 vehicles full of goods from the market and they feed the women from this.

One day we begged the militants to let us go home to shower and change our dirty clothes.

Some of them agreed and escorted us to the house. They waited outside while we went in.

We then got out from the other end of the house and fled. That is how we escaped."

Boko Haram at a glance

  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria - also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Controls several north-eastern towns
  • Launched attacks on Cameroon

Soldiers without weapons

Who are Boko Haram?

Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram


Drone carrying drugs crashes near US-Mexico border


A drone carrying more than six pounds (2.7kg) of methamphetamine has crashed near Mexico's border with the US.

Mexican police in Tijuana say they were alerted to an unidentified object in a car park of a shopping centre.

"The drone had packages taped to it and was covered with plastic bags containing the drug known as crystal", the local police chief said.

Authorities are investigating where the flight originated, who controlled it and where it was bound for.

Police say it is not the first time a drone has been used for smuggling drugs across the border.

In April, US authorities in South Carolina found a drone outside a prison fence which had been carrying mobile phones, marijuana and tobacco.

Other attempts to smuggle drugs have included catapults and ultralight aircraft.


The sheikh who listened to Nazi radio



Early in World War Two, just after the fall of France, Britain's agent in the Gulf sheikhdom of Sharjah noticed an alarming rise in support for Nazi Germany. Slipping on a disguise he quickly found out who was responsible, reports Matthew Teller.

"I beg to report that lately I received information that the Shaikh of Sharjah had been opening his wireless set on the German Arabic Broadcast so loudly that one could hear it from 200 yards from his palace," wrote the agent, Abdurrazzaq al-Razuki, to his Bahrain-based superior, Hugh Weightman, in June 1940.

"A large crowd gathers there to hear the German news of which they took much interest."

To confirm this he went round to the palace incognito one night and heard both the radio broadcasts and people arguing with each other - for and against Germany.

There was other evidence too, that could not be ignored: "Long live Hitler" and "Right is with Germany" had been chalked on walls around the town.

After making further "secret inquiries" al-Razuki determined that the source of dissent was not the Sheikh, but his secretary Abdullah bin Faris - who a few months earlier had requested naturalisation as a British subject, and been refused.

"In order to throw ash into my eyes, he praises the British Government in my presence, [but] acts behind the curtain by inducing ordinary people to spread rumours about defeat," wrote al-Razuki to Weightman.

Even in far-flung Sharjah, British officials knew they could not let pro-German sentiment go unchallenged - not least because Sharjah was a refuelling stop for Imperial Airways flights between London and India.

Amid a flurry of correspondence "in the hope of frightening the Sheikh", Weightman reminded the Sheikh of his treaty obligations with Britain and demanded punishment for Abdullah.

This produced instant results.

"I and all my people are the loyal friends of His Majesty's Government," the Sheikh wrote.

"We do not listen to the Berlin broadcast because it is the promulgator of falsehood. In this war we are the enemies of Germany and Italy."

He enclosed a document signed by 48 Sharjah notables testifying to Abdullah's innocence. But then al-Razuki discovered that Abdullah had secured these signatures by deceit, substituting one document for another.

Weightman was in a bind.

The Sheikh "knows less of what goes on in his own town than I do," he fumed. At the same time, he recognised that it was "practically impossible" to force the Sheikh to sack Abdullah.

Fortunately, al-Razuki was soon able to report that the political climate in Sharjah was improving.

"The Sheikh is avoiding all talk about the Germans and is doing his best to show that he is the most loyal friend of the British Government," he wrote on 30 October.

"Abdullah bin Faris also refrained from pro-Nazi talk and is spreading only good news about the British Government."

Might the Sheikh have started blasting out the BBC's Arabic broadcasts instead of Germany's? The tradition of radio for the people certainly continued, it seems.

"In the evening people would mass in front of Sharjah Fort to listen to news broadcasts," Sultan al-Qasimi, the current ruler of Sharjah writes in his memoir, My Early Life - though he was only six at the war's end.

"They could hear the radio from one of the upper-floor windows, where the Sheikh held his [gathering]."

Some of the Sheikh's subjects evidently still supported Germany, possibly remembering the broadcasts heard in 1940, which had promised liberation from colonial rule.

"Half the people supported the Allies and half supported the Axis powers," writes Sultan al-Qasimi.

"We children watched the fighting between the two."

Round the Bend is a series of tales from the days when Britain ruled India and the Gulf, told with documents newly digitised by the British Library. You can explore the archive yourself.


Goldman Sachs warns on Britain and the EU


Gary Cohn, the President of Goldman Sachs, has said publicly what many financial chief executives are thinking privately.

Why risk pulling out of the European Union given that one of Britain's few business sectors with a healthy trade surplus is financial services?

Of course, not all agree that the City's position would be adversely affected by not being in the EU.

In fact, without the need to follow all the EU regulations, Britain might become a more attractive place to do financial business. Look at Singapore, it is argued.

Mr Cohn is not so sure. If Britain isn't in the EU, what restrictions will be put in place for banks headquartered in London that need to do business in Europe?


They are called "passporting" rules.

And they could be onerous.

"I think that having a great financial capital of the world staying in the UK - and having the UK be part of Europe is the best thing for all of us," Mr Cohn told me at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He went on to emphasise the value of London to the UK economy.

"I think it is hard to understand all the effects that the financial services sector has in the UK," he said.

"We are a huge employer both directly and indirectly, a huge economic engine for the UK.

"Think of all the people we employ - think of all the taxis, the restaurants, the accountants, the law firms - the people that we attract. I think it's got a major impact on London and the UK.

"I don't know what would replace that industry in the UK."

Global outlook

Turning to wider global themes, Mr Cohn's view can be summed up under three neat headlines:

  • US going well (the oil price decline has given the American economy a $3bn boost) but there is no need for the Federal Reserve to raise rates until next year.
  • The eurozone is a lot better than it was.
  • We should all worry about central banks engaging in "competitive devaluations", a sort of currency war by proxy.

On America, Mr Cohn says that although the Fed might be keen to raise interest rates, they should be cautious.

"If you look at the employment situation in the United States at the moment and you look at the inflation situation, or lack of it, we are not near target inflation rate yet," he said.

"Until we see real inflation and real employment growth I don't think they will raise rates.

"If we raise rates and the dollar strengthens, that will slow down the US economy.

"Central bankers never want to be in a position to turn the economy into negative territory. I think it is going to be very difficult for the Fed to raise rates - I'm 2016 and beyond [when they will do it]."

Eurozone optimism

Despite fears over political risk, Mr Cohn believes that the eurozone is looking more positive. The fact that the European Central Bank has finally announced its plans for up to 1 trillion euros of monetary easing by September 2016 has helped.

"I think 2015 looks pretty good for the eurozone," he said.

"I know there are elections and I know that some people think these are referendums on the eurozone.

"It seems to me that the way things are today, the eurozone is going to stay together. But it does feel like there will be a lot of noise in the system for the next few years."

That noise will only increase with the Greek elections on Sunday.

And harder, structural reform is still necessary.

"Monetary policy can only go so far - we've got negative interest rates in parts of Europe already, you've got a devaluing currency - that will all be helpful.

"But they can't do the entire job themselves and we need to get people back to work.

"We've got to get people consuming, we've got to get people spending money. Those things will do a lot more than making money more readily available."

Currency war?

Of course, the ECB announcement has led to a significant decline in the value of the euro.

Japan's decision on monetary easing had a similar affect on the yen. For some, it is evidence of a currency war.

"We have been living in a world where many countries have been trying to devalue their currencies to grow their economies," Mr Cohn said.

"You devalue your currency, you obviously make yourself more competitive - some people believe you are exporting your deflation.

"When you do this you are exporting your deflation. So you are creating an unfavourable situation for the country whose currency is rallying.

"Right now China, the US and Switzerland - their currencies are rallying.

"Those places become less and less competitive and places like the eurozone become more competitive.

"US exports become more expensive. It turns into a bit of a war because everyone is trying to do the same thing."


Why no le Pen or Farage at Davos?


Paloma Faith opened her set at Google's Davos jamboree by shouting - with no apparent sense of irony, as the vintage Bollinger flowed - "let's spread the 1%".

What she meant, presumably, was "let's find a way to redistribute some of the almost-50% of the world's wealth controlled by the richest 1%" - who undoubtedly include Paloma Faith.

The World Economic Forum at Davis isn't thronged by the best-heeled 1% of course. It's in effect the annual general meeting of the top 0.01% - the super elite of the wealthy and the powerful.

It is where billionaires and business leaders buy access to world leaders and top central bankers. It is where, over coffee and cake in the day, and champagne and canapés at night, what would once have been called the ruling class get together to share their cares.

And it wasn't just Paloma Faith who apparently thinks her financial rewards aren't fair. This year I was challenged to find a plutocrat who wasn't fretting about the widening gap between rich and poor - an inequality gap in the world's biggest economy, the US, which is now back to where it was in the 1920s.

Part of the super-wealthy's angst may be survival instinct. Because all over the world millions of people left behind by globalisation, whose living standards have been squeezed, have been voting for populist, and often nationalist, parties - which promote policies frequently inimical to the material interests of the rich.

Davos Man

And the popularity of the likes of Syriza In Greece and France's Front National is - to state the blindingly obvious - inimical to the interests of the mainstream parties.

Davos Man and Davos Woman have a horrified fascination with the anti-austerity new left of Spain and Greece, whose Syriza may triumph in Sunday's election.

And they appear bewildered and anxious about the rise and rise of anti-immigration, eurosceptic UKIP in Britain and the Front National in France.

For the Davos set, the rise and rise of the Front National's Marine le Pen - who wants a return to protectionism and also nationalisation of France's most important companies - is especially troubling.

Senior French politicians concede she is formidable. Having interviewed her recently, it is hard to disagree.

And they have no very compelling strategy to check her advance, other than a hope that there will still be enough liberals and moderates in France by the time of the 2017 presidential election to vote in an anyone-but-Marine, centre-ground candidate.

Populist parties

The hope at Davos is that as and when leaders of the populist parties scent real power, when the realities of governing dawn on them, they will drop their more extreme ideas and be co-opted into the mainstream. And the softening of Syriza's previous hostility to remaining in the euro may support that optimism.

But a le Pen and a Nigel Farage of UKIP more-or-less define themselves as the antithesis of Davos person. So the idea that the populists could ever want to join the Davos gang seems naive.

It is striking and important that at a time when populist parties pose an arguably existential threat to European Union and eurozone, there is not a single representative of any them at the summit of the Swiss mountain (or at least not that I could spot).

But if Farage, le Pen and Tsipras aren't here, Davos risks being seen as too removed from the big political and economic debates of our time, or at least those who excite a growing number of citizens.

Today Davos, as it did after the 2008 banking debacle, feels a club of the existentially challenged, ancien regime, perhaps.

Davos and the World Economic Forum will be around for many years yet. But it's habitués risk defenestration, loss of their licence to govern, if they're unable to respond effectively to the new demagogues' charge that they are not saving the world, as they claim, but only their own precious privileges.


William Gillette: Five ways he transformed how Sherlock Holmes looks and talks


A 1916 silent movie featuring Sherlock Holmes - long presumed lost - is due to have its premiere in Paris. It stars a man who changed the way we see Conan Doyle's famous sleuth forever.

He was the first great Sherlock Holmes. But few will have heard of US actor William Gillette.

He is thought to be a distant relation of the family behind Gillette razors, wrote plays about the American civil war, patented a noise to imitate the sound of a galloping horse and built an enormous castle in Connecticut. But it is his Holmes that fascinates people today.

And until three months ago, it seemed that no-one would ever see it.

Gillette adapted Sherlock Holmes for the stage in 1899 and played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective more than 1,000 times.

He made only one film, the 1916 silent movie version of Sherlock Holmes. For decades the movie was presumed lost, one of the great missing links of Sherlockiana. Then in October 2014 it was discovered at the Cinematheque Francaise, a film archive in Paris.

"At last we get to see for ourselves the actor who kept the first generation of Sherlockians spellbound," says Professor Russell Merritt, who has been researching the film's origins. "As far as Holmes is concerned, there's not an actor dead or alive who hasn't consciously or intuitively played off Gillette."

Not only was Gillette the Benedict Cumberbatch of his day. He was the actor who decided - perhaps more than any other - how Holmes looks and talks, and whose relationship with Conan Doyle may have breathed new life into the Sherlock Holmes franchise.

Here are five ways Gillette created the Holmes we know today.

Curved pipe

Two props evoke Sherlock Holmes above all others.

The first is the deerstalker. Conan Doyle's stories never mentioned his distinctive headgear - it was given to Holmes by the illustrator Sidney Paget when the stories were published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.

The other crucial object is his pipe. It's not an ornament but a part of Holmes's deductive ritual. "It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes," he says to Watson in the Red-Headed League.

The books describe a "black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird". Paget gave Holmes a straight pipe.

But William Gillette's 1899 play and 1916 movie, in which he played Holmes, made a crucial change. The shaft of the pipe was no longer straight but curved.

"The story goes that he's able to deliver his lines while still smoking. A more traditional pipe and his hand would have been in front of his mouth," says Alex Werner, curator of the Museum of London's ongoing exhibition, "Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die."

The curved pipe stuck in the popular imagination and became "iconic", Werner says.

There have been occasional amendments though. In the 1988 film Without a Clue, Michael Caine puffs on a more ostentatiously curvy pipe. And in the recent BBC TV series, Benedict Cumberbatch has a nicotine patch instead.

'Elementary, my dear fellow'

The most Holmesian phrase - "Elementary my dear Watson" - is never uttered in the books. Gillette is perhaps the man who did most to bring it in, although he never used the exact phrase.

In the play he wrote the line: "Elementary my dear fellow." Others subsequently swapped "fellow" with "Watson".

PG Wodehouse is often credited with this swap in his spoof novel Psmith. But the Oxford English Dictionary queries this.

It seems that the term was already being used in newspapers before Wodehouse's 1915 novel. So some uncertainty remains as to who coined it.

Conan Doyle included the term "elementary" in Holmes's deductive vernacular. He also included "my dear Watson". But never in the same sentence.

It seems that Gillette almost put the two together. And others later finished the job. The line, "Elementary my dear Watson" probably became famous when the talkies came in - it was used in The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 1929, which starred Clive Brook.

Suave dressing gown

Conan Doyle describes Holmes' dressing gown as variously blue, purple or mouse-coloured, according to Roger Johnson, editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal. However, that's all the reader is told.

Johnson says Gillette's dressing gown moved Holmes slightly up-market: "Gillette had a really rather plush, splendid dressing gown and some of the subsequent actors adopted similar ones."

Before Gillette, Holmes inhabited, if not a seedy world, then a dangerous one. He employed a reformed crook as one of his assistants. The luxuriant dressing gown is part of a more louche, languid Holmes who may inject cocaine on stage but mixes with a more high society crowd.

Paget had drawn the dressing gown as "slightly ragged", says Werner. "When Gillette took on the role the dressing gown was very glamorous, he is quite the suave bachelor. It's the key costume," says Werner.

Years later, Conan Doyle gave Eille Norword, another actor to play Holmes, a vividly patterned dressing gown, perhaps inspired by Gillette's version.

Cumberbatch has made the dark grey, double-breasted Belstaff Milford part of his look. But he continues the tradition of lounging around in a dressing gown. His most commonly used robe is pure silk, navy-coloured with a satin stripe.

He shaped America's view of Holmes

Gillette was the first American stage actor to take on this most English of roles. His delivery mixed an upper crust English accent with North American twang.

"You can hear the same sort of thing when Katharine Hepburn tries to speak in an English way in The African Queen," says Johnson.

Gillette's 1916 silent film, though set in London, was shot in the US. He also brought an American influence to Holmes's appearance.

In a previous play, Secret Service, there was something of the matinee idol about him. His Holmes contrasted with the prominent nose and cheekbones of a Basil Rathbone, Douglas Wilmur or Benedict Cumberbatch.

Compared to the Holmes of the time, his was "less gaunt and beaky, with more hair," says Johnson. "And more handsome."

At the start of the 20th Century, the American illustrator Frederic Dorr Steele drew Holmes for various US publications. His model was Gillette.

"That's what most Americans saw Holmes as. Whereas in Britain it was the illustrations of [Sidney] Paget in the Strand magazine," Johnson says.

And his reputation continued to grow. Calm and charismatic, is how silent film buffs describe him. Few have seen the 1916 film but even the photos show how naturally he took to the role, says Johnson. "He's marvellous. People say he is Sherlock Holmes."

Gillette was king of the silent movie age but when the talkies arrived, it was time for another kind of Holmes to emerge. For many fans today, it is Rathbone who became and remains the archetype.

He helped inspire Conan Doyle to 'reboot' Holmes

Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in print in 1893. A stage adaptation he wrote failed to get off the ground, which might explain his willingness to allow Gillette to write his own.

When the American asked whether the script could see Holmes married, Conan Doyle replied: "You may marry him, murder him, or do what you like to him."

He seemed to trust Gillette implicitly, says Werner. They'd hit it off as soon as they met. According to Charles Higham's biography, Gillette alighted from a train dressed as Holmes before approaching Conan Doyle's carriage and examining him through a magnifying glass.

"Unquestionably an author," he announced, to Conan Doyle's amusement.

But there was another factor beside friendship - money.

"I believe however that there is a fortune in the other - Sherlock Holmes," Conan Doyle writes in a letter dated 18 June 1899. "Gillette has made a great play out of it, and he is a great actor."

He believed it was destined to be a hit. Royalties would have been the primary motivation but there was also a sense that it might create a new interest in reading the books. "It has such an enormous initial advertisement," the letter continued. "I am not usually over sanguine but I do have great hopes for this. It is our trump card."

Conan Doyle began writing The Hound of the Baskervilles while the play was on. Did the drama subtly influence the way Conan Doyle wrote the later stories? Johnson thinks not: "Some people say the character in the later stories is not the same but I can't detect any change."

Whatever the aesthetic impact, Gillette's success - this "trump card" - would have reassured Conan Doyle that there was still a public appetite for Holmes.

As he wrote when he first read Gillette's stage adaptation: "It's good to see the old chap back."

The other great 'Sherlock Holmes' actors

  • Basil Rathbone (1892-1967): English actor who played Holmes in 14 films between 1939 and 1946, still probably the most well-known screen incarnation of the role; Rathbone's films were the first to update Holmes and portray him pitting his wits against the Nazis
  • Jeremy Brett (1933-95): Starred in four series of Granada TV's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an attempt to adapt Conan Doyle's stories faithfully for television
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (1976-): Star of BBC's Sherlock (pictured), which re-imagines Holmes and Dr Watson in 21st Century London

BBC Sherlock page


A Point of View: Why tyrants are afraid of art and beauty


Beauty - and art - may seem unnecessary luxuries, but they're are as essential to our survival as food and water, argues AL Kennedy.

A while ago I was at my mother's house and - as I walked into the hall - there was a tray set out and on the tray was a dish of rose petals. A single petal wasn't in the bowl, it was on the tray. Without thinking, I put the petal into the bowl because I'm anal retentive and controlling and don't really enjoy, or even understand ornaments. I live in hotels a lot - mostly the only ornaments there will be a kettle.

The thing was, at the time of my visit, my mother was still a teacher, but after decades of pursuing what was a true vocation, she could no longer enjoy her job. She was working in what had been a wonderful primary school at the heart of a highly stressed community, but the school's goals and its generosity, its ability to educate, had slowly been undermined from without and within until my mother went to work each day and watched her colleagues get ill, or take early retirement, while a generation of children with very few chances, had even those taken away. And the situation was undermining her health and, in a way, breaking her heart.

I moved the petal, just to be neat, but then I heard my mother say - very quietly and as if she might be wrong - that she'd meant it to be where it was. And then I realised, of course I did, that at a time when my mother needed to be sustained, she had made something beautiful which pleased her and which she saw every day when she came in from work. And I'd spoiled it and made her doubt it. I hadn't meant to, but by hurting what she'd made, I'd hurt her. And in hurting something she had used to expand who she could be in the world, I had made her feel smaller than she already did. Telling her that I'd done it on instinct and not as a judgement and that it was fine and could be put right didn't absolutely mend what had been disturbed. This was a minor event in the great scheme of things, not dramatic, but I've never forgotten it because its implications ran so suddenly so very deep and because I love my mother.

I should have known better - I'm her daughter. Not only that, I earn my living making things that I hope are beautiful and which, although they aren't me, are expressions of me and of what I understand of the world and they're supposed to please others, but the making of them pleases me, I wouldn't be without it. Which is to say I produce art, or hope to, in a small way I create things. And I'm familiar with that strange and often tender link between a creator and a creation.

But why talk about this now? Why mention roses in a world where aeroplanes full of people fall out of the sky and shoppers are crushed by accident while they walk with each other under Christmas lights - a world where children are preyed upon and where human beings will shoot, or bomb, or torture, or kidnap other human beings, will act within the grip of philosophies turned toxic by terrible certainties - certainties which deny reality and must therefore be overmastering and cruel ? And sometimes deaths are classified as important and sometimes they're ignored. We live in a dark place.

Or why mention roses in a world where health workers willingly risk both terrible diseases and war zones, simply to stop strangers dying - a world where people make living organ donations to help others survive (in the UK alone about 1,000 donations every year)? And this is a world where volunteers clear mines in former conflict zones like Colombia, Vietnam and Cambodia - a world where public generosity can shame government, a world of first aiders and accompaniers and mentors and foster parents, of volunteering, where good will organises efforts to defend children, or feed the hungry. A world where people march and fill their streets to demonstrate their will to keep their peace. We live in an enlightened place, rich in necessary beauties. So why bother with roses?

Because I believe in what we might call unnecessary beauty, in art. And an artist would say that, but then again, individuals and groups who have sought to control, or extinguish populations, to marginalise or demonise this or that type of human being - they seem to believe in the power of art even more than I do. They ardently seek out and restrict those intimate, idiosyncratic joys we find in the songs we sing, the stories that travel with us, the verses that sustain us, the paintings and drawings and sculptures, windows and buildings, voices and performances, images that lift us and give us dignity - the things that show us the light in our world and in ourselves, the things that show us individual human beings have the power to create wonders which outlast them and which transcend every classification of gender, race, religion, nationality, age.

Art is a power, and much of its true power is invisible, private, memorised and held even in prison cells and on forced marches, so you can see why totalitarians of all kinds dislike it. You can see why Soviet Russia and Bible Belt America had to resist rock and roll, why Nazi leaders would ban the work of decadent artists, Jewish artists, black artists, of all the untermenschen - while secretly appropriating its glamour and comfort for themselves - or why suspected communists would be prevented from making films in McCarthy's Hollywood, why the Bamiyan Buddhas had to be destroyed, why the Dubrovnik world heritage site had to be shelled, why it would seem amusing and powerful to compel musicians to play while people screamed in gas chambers, why in most years, somewhere books are burned, or why the Khmer Rouge would ban the word for sleep, or kill a girl - as it was put - "because she was too beautiful". The control of our art is very often to prevent us from being too beautiful, independently sustained by beauty from uncontrollable sources - beautiful for ourselves, beautiful for others.

Bamiyan Buddhas
  • Monumental 6th Century statues of Buddha, carved into cliffside in Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan
  • Largely destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, who controlled the country at that time - under their interpretation of Sharia law, the statues were idolatrous and un-Islamic
  • Since the fall of the Taliban, there has been continuing debate over whether the statues should be rebuilt

BBC News Magazine: Should the Bamiyan Buddhas be re-built? (August 2012)

If I know I have made something beautiful for others, whether it's an opera or a Christmas card, I become more. If others make something beautiful for me - well, I'm grateful. I may never have met someone from, let's say Indigoland, but if I look at a photograph taken there, or read novels by Indigo writers - that can allow me to inhabit the lives and minds and homes of Indigo people. It creates a type of love. If some force or interest wished to oppress or destroy the Indigo people, it would be best to conceal or destroy their art first, their voice in the world, their immortality. History teaches us that in destroying any group in effigy, you smooth your way to destroying them in fact.

And as a writer I'll mention that writers are imprisoned every year, killed, tortured, flogged, harassed. The Committee to Protect Journalists cites 221 journalists imprisoned worldwide last year. But poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, they're punished, too - hundreds imprisoned, thousands oppressed. Of course. Words trouble, question, ignite. At their best, they let us see ourselves truly as we are - a good and bad species, one worth preserving in a light and dark place.

Which means those unnecessary beauties are perhaps especially necessary. Mankind's imagination can create ugliness and destruction so it would seem an act of self-defence to create the opposite in response. We are small and solitary beings and frail and short-lived - we deserve the opposite as consolation.

That's why I often remember neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankel and the moment he described when noticing the beauty of a sunrise could mean a concentration camp hadn't yet killed who he was. Stolen moments of beauty, fragments of art in the camps helped him and other captives survive - even if they involved missing a meal. Frankel believed why we live can sustain us when we can't see how. His writing gives me that possibility. It reminds me that "hearts starve as well as bodies: give us bread but give us roses". Which is a line from a song "Bread And Roses", inspired by an unnecessary beauty on a textile workers' banner and inspiring further in its turn.

Even if all you can do for now is put a petal where you want it - that's a promise to your future and a light. My mum taught me that.


Why Latin America should not squander the China boom


Aside from the Chinese who helped build the Panama Canal, and the Maoist rebels of Peru who called themselves the Shining Path, China's presence and influence in Latin America was unremarkable until the turn of the 21st Century.

After 2001, when it joined the world economy through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), China quickly began purchasing and investing in Latin American primary commodities.

Today, China is the number one trading partner for some of the region's largest economies, and China's development banks pour more money into the region than the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank.

As China has risen, it has been guzzling oil from Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico to fuel its expanding fleet of cars, lorries, and container ships.

China has wired more than half the world's consumer electronics products with copper from Chile and Peru.

Many of China's new cities have iron ore from Brazil at their core.

As standards of living have risen, the Chinese eat more beef - from cattle that are fed soya beans from Argentina and Brazil.

In turn, Chinese companies have flocked to the Americas to invest in these commodities, backed by blank cheques from China's state-run development banks.

Voracious appetite

In many ways, China's voracious appetite for Latin American commodities has been a saviour for the Americas, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Latin America rode the coattails of the boom in China, growing at an annual rate of 3.6% from 2003 to 2013.

That stands in stark contrast to the previous two decades dominated by the so-called "Washington Consensus", the belief that orthodox economic policy, complete opening of markets, and the reduction of the role of the state were the best ways for developing countries to grow.

Under the "Washington Consensus", growth was a much slower 2.4%.

New shores

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and then after the global financial meltdown that originated in the US, Washington turned to other shores.

So Latin America has quickly become incredibly strategic for China - as a source for many of the key natural resources it needs to grow its economy and the appetites of more than a billion people.

That is why last month China hosted the first ministerial conference of the China-Celac Forum.

Celac, or the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, was formed in 2011 and comprises 33 countries.

Alongside a host of co-operation agreements, China pledged to increase trade with Latin America to $500bn (£329bn) and to invest upwards of $250bn over the next decade.

China also pledged $20bn (£13bn) in loans for China-Latin America infrastructure projects and created a $5bn China-Celac Co-operation Fund.

Such trade and investment will be very welcome in a region projected to see slow growth over the next few years.

New challenges

With the new friends come new challenges, however.

Chinese trade and investment in primary commodities caused prices and exchange rates to skyrocket in the region and made Latin American manufacturing industries less competitive on a global scale.

Textiles, car-making, electronics and other companies from Brazil and Mexico have lost significant market share in world and regional markets, and have attracted much less investment.

Moreover, natural resource exploitation in Latin America goes hand in hand with environmental degradation and social conflict.

Mining, oil exploration, and large-scale farming activities often necessitate the clearing of forests and the pollution of waterways; they are found in areas where many of the world's richest indigenous cultures reside.

There are global advocacy campaigns reeling over Chinese oil exploration in the Ecuadorean Amazon and hydroelectric dams near biosphere reserves in Honduras.

Latin American governments fell far short in capturing their China windfall and investing some of the proceeds into industry and innovation, into people, and into protecting the environment.

According to research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), although the China-led commodity boom was among the longest and most lucrative in the region's history, most Latin American countries saved less of these windfalls than they have in past booms.

Latin American countries will do well to put the proper policies in place as these pledges for new trade and investment materialise.

Without such policies, the region will suffer from lost growth opportunities, lost elections, and a degraded environment.


Linda Yueh Chief business correspondent

Enriching the rich in the US - but what about the rest?


Has the land of opportunity created a society of haves and have-nots? Is the US economy now just enriching the rich? Inequality has been noticeable since the recession, but the income gap has been growing for decades.

During the economic boom of the 1950s in the United States, the top 1% gained a bit more than the rest - grabbing some 5% of the incomes gained during expansions.

But now the top 1% accounts for 95% of the income gains after the great recession of 2008, leaving the bottom 99% with just 5% of the income gains.

It's usually low interest rates and cheap money that drive a recovery, and that usually boosts stocks. US markets have hit numerous record highs since the 2008 crisis, and those gains now predominantly go to the top 10% - because they own 91% of all stocks.

It used to be more equitable in that half of US households owned stocks.

Those are the immediate reasons why inequality has risen in the US, but inequality has been on the rise for far longer.

Inequality fell after the first Gilded Age during the 1920s, especially during the 1950s and 1960s when per capita GDP grew strongly during what's called the Golden Age of the US economy.

But starting in the 1970s, the income gap ceased narrowing and then started rising sharply after 1980 - reaching the present where it is more unequal than ever before.

Reasons for widening inequality

In Talking Business, we discussed the longer term causes of inequality. Panellists including former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich argued that there are several forces driving up inequality.

Firstly, globalisation has driven down median wages and those who gain from trade - the skilled workers and owners of capital - have earned more while the middle- and lower-skilled lost out, which has widened the gap.

It is also due to what economists call skill-biased technical change. As the US economy becomes more technologically driven, it is again skilled workers who benefit.

The two are related of course, as the US can specialise in the higher-skilled technical fields since it can import what it no longer produces from overseas.

Robert Reich also says that decreased unionisation weakened workers' bargaining power over wages, while Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, points to monetary policy favouring low interest rates over targeting employment.

As Jason Furman, the chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, points out, the rise in inequality in the US is the greatest amongst advanced economies.

He says that President Obama used redistributive taxation to address inequality in his first term and this current budget focuses on raising the minimum wage and inheritance tax as ways of raising wages for the middle class.

However, Bain founder Ed Conard argues that raising taxes to reduce inequality is not a long-term solution and can harm companies.

Bridging the gap

Whether it matters was also hotly debated, as were the solutions.

David Azzerad from the Heritage Foundation think tank argued that if the rich have not got rich illegally, then why does inequality matter?

Messrs Reich and Baker countered that the issue is having the opportunity to earn a good income - when the structure of the economy has changed to make that harder than ever before.

Most of the discussions centred on wages for average workers, and how to raise these rather than taxing the rich. A global wealth tax was the solution proposed by Thomas Piketty, who has elevated this issue globally.

In other words, if the forces of globalisation, technological change, etc. are exacerbating inequality, then the tax system could be used to redistribute wealth.

If you looked at the Gini coefficient, which is a measure of income inequality, those would be much higher for the US and the UK without the progressive tax system and redistributive policies around social welfare.

American dream no more?

But the panel disagreed over whether government should play such a role and how much, if at all, there are global forces at play.

For instance, Ed Conard argued for reforming the trade regime to get to the root cause rather than more government interference.

Jennifer Erickson from the Center for American Progress countered that addressing wages was key but that government should play a proactive role in reducing inequality.

One theme was evident throughout - the rich getting richer has squeezed the middle class.

America terms itself the land of opportunity where anyone can have a house with a white picket fence and a good job. However, that dream is getting harder to reach for many Americans - while the rich continue to get richer as median wages continue to stagnate.


The plane-builder of South Sudan


George Mel has dreamed of flying since he was a boy, but when his father died he had to give up his studies, and any chance of training to be a pilot. Instead he built a plane in his back yard - which so impressed his country's air force that it gave him a job.

"I've had the passion to become an aeronautic engineer since I was young," says George Mel, a 23-year-old, who lives in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

"I love to make aircraft.

"When I was still young I tried to fly. I got curtains and put metal in to form wings, and got on top of the roof. I wanted to see if I would fly like a bird, but I fell. I almost broke my leg."

Despite such early disappointments, Mel set out to learn as much as he could about aviation.

He went to study at high school in Uganda, but in 2011, as he was preparing for his final exams, his father died, leaving him unable to pay his tuition fees.

He had no choice but to give up his studies and come home.

But he continued to do whatever he could to teach himself aeronautics.

Losing his father was bad, Mel says, but it also seemed to give him the space to pursue his goal.

"When I didn't go to school I had a lot of time," he says.

"My brain was released to do a lot of research. I didn't just sit down… I stuck to my dreams and I started doing them practically and researching a lot."

He painstakingly gathered the materials to build an aircraft, scouring Juba's metal workshops to piece together an aluminium airframe, and importing two small petrol engines to power it.

Using a garden chair for the pilot's seat, he put it aircraft together with information he found in old textbooks and on the internet.

In late 2013, South Sudan slid towards civil war amid a power struggle between the country's two top politicians.

But Mel continued working on his aircraft even as the conflict spilled on to the streets around his family compound.

Shooting could be heard in his neighbourhood as fighting approached the United Nations mission close to Male's home.

"I didn't stop my project," he says, "I kept on doing it in my research centre. I just locked myself inside, and did my work.

"A lot of people left the place but I didn't move anywhere. I didn't know where to go, so I kept on doing my work."

Mel's "research centre" is his own room, where his bed sits alongside pieces of aircraft.

"You can see wooden propellers here, and UAVs, because these were my interest, this is what I focused on.

"This is where I sleep, and the same place where I do my research, because they don't have any working places like hangars at the moment."

Occasionally, as the family bread-winner in one of Africa's least developed economies, he has deemed it wise to conceal his activities from the rest of the household.

"Sometimes when I bring materials I sneak them into the house through the fence so they will not see. If they see, they will start saying I'm wasting money on crazy stuff," he says.

But when Mel eventually took his work to the South Sudan Air Force, officers were impressed and gave him a job in their IT department.

He is now hoping to get a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering abroad.

So far the authorities in Juba have refused Mel permission to test-fly his ultra-light, restricting him to taxi-ing the aircraft in his yard.

But he remains determined to realise his ambitions, for himself and for the future of his country.

One of his aims is to develop a farming drone to spray crops, though in the long run, of course, he wants to design and build full-size planes.

On the tail of his first aircraft he has painted the South Sudanese flag, along with the words: "We have a future".

"I'm very hopeful. What happened has happened and we have to move on with life," says Mel.

"So we forget about the past and struggle for the future. Mainly as the youth we need to do our level best and lift up this country.

"It's logic. The youth are the future of the country."


'The year I lost my limbs was the most brilliant of my life'


In a few weeks Alex Lewis went from being the owner of a pub, to becoming critically ill and a quadruple amputee. Yet he still describes the past year as the best he's ever had.

"There are days when I wake up and I think gosh my shoulder hurts, or wow my stumps are sore, but I just keep on pushing forward," Alex Lewis explains.

He's on speakerphone as he is unable to hold a phone now he has no hands.

As well as losing his limbs, Lewis also lost his lips and nose. Surgeons have since grafted skin from his shoulder into lips leaving him, he jokes, looking like a Simpsons character and with a nose that constantly runs.

The positivity 34-year-old Lewis, from Stockbridge, Hampshire, has found over the past year has been remarkable for those close to him, and he says he feels happier now than before his illness. Many would find it hard to believe, but he says that great things have come of it.

"It's made me think differently about being a dad, a partner, a human being," he says, and a new charity set up in his name has given him a huge impetus to help others. Despite this positive attitude, he can't do a lot of the things he once loved, like cooking and playing golf. He and his partner Lucy have lost the pub they once ran.

'Survival chance of 5%'

It was in November 2013 when Lewis thought he had "man flu", but when he spotted blood in his urine, followed by blotchy, bruised looking skin he knew something more serious was happening.

It turned out to be a streptococcal infection (type A) and he was rushed into hospital in Winchester on 17 November 2013. The infection penetrated deep into his tissues and organs, and triggered blood poisoning, or sepsis, a life-threatening condition that causes multiple organ failure.

The skin on his arms and legs, and part of his face had quickly turned black and gangrenous. For his family and friends, at his bedside every day while he was on a life support machine, it was shocking to see.

But for his son Sam, just three at the time, it looked merely as though Daddy was covered in chocolate.

Lewis's infected limbs were starting to poison his body and, as soon as he was off life support, he was told he would have to have his left arm amputated above the elbow.

He says he felt no sadness or emotion at the news because the doctors were incredibly matter-of-fact. "It was a case of 'this arm is killing me so it has to go,'" he says.

It was the second week of December and although he had lost an arm, he wasn't yet out of danger. His damaged legs were beginning to poison his body and, in quick succession he had two more operations to amputate first one leg, then the other, leaving him with just one limb - his right arm.

"I processed every amputation individually," he says. "Part of me thought let's just get this process done so I can get out of hospital and home." But ultimately he says he didn't have much time to think.

His right arm had been damaged too, but doctors thought there was a chance of saving it. It took 17-and-a-half hours in an operating theatre on Christmas Eve 2013 to rebuild it. Surgeons stripped the arm to scrape the dead tissue away. Then they took 16.5ins (42cm) of his left shoulder blade, along with the skin, muscle, nerves and tissue and grafted it on to his right arm.

Having lost three limbs already, use of that remaining hand was seen as crucial by doctors and Lewis was desperate to do what he could to keep it.

"I learned along the way that all the quadruple amputees I've met say the one thing they'd kill for is a hand," Lewis says. "It means you can still do your daily stuff, get a drink, write."

But the damage proved to be too severe and, one night, while he was asleep, Lewis rolled over and snapped the arm in two.

"My hand was dangling down by my elbow," he says. His partner Lucy was devastated, and imagined a far harder life for him now he had no limbs - but Lewis says he didn't care.

"There is no point waiting for five years trying to get an arm working again," he says. "I think psychologically it would have been much more damaging to wait all that time and then lose it."

With all four limbs amputated, Lewis had to learn how to go about his new life. He could no longer get himself up and washed and dressed in the morning, so had to get used to a carer coming in once a day - but first on his to-do list was learning to walk.

He began a 10-week walking course at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton but after just two weeks he surprised everyone by successfully walking on devices called "rocker pylons" - prosthetics on a short pole, with a large rocking foot.

He's been walking on them for almost three months now and says he is making great progress but still finds them awkward. "Going up stairs is difficult because of the shortness of them," he says, "and different terrains are hard."

He has chosen to use prosthetic arms and currently uses ones with hooks. His attitude is: "I might as well try what is best and then make my mind up."

The prosthetics let him do things like open a fridge, pick up a drink or open a bag of sweets, actions which aren't possible using his stumps.

He says it still feels like he's living in a dream world and that it's all "a bit alien". Catching sight of himself in a mirror feels uncanny, he says, because the body he had become used to for 33 years has changed beyond his recognition.

"It can be upsetting but I just think it is incredible what the human body is able to overcome," he says.


  Who is a Migrant?
 Who Owns the Debt?
 Who's Dream?
 Who Cleans Up After?


Project HomeFarm

Garden Diary

Trevor Batten
 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2015