Saturday, 26 May 2012

Times are desperate in Spain. The Sun is setting on expats' Costa dreams

 

It was sundowner time at the Cantina tapas bar in the picturesque village of Frigiliana, a few miles inland from the Costa del Sol town of Nerja. Inside, local men were watching bullfighting on television and smoking cigars in quiet contravention of the smoking ban. Outside, expatriate Britons were discussing the vagaries of living in Spain while downing glasses of tinto de verano, the popular summer drink of red wine and lemonade. Mark Jones, who runs his own gardening and pool maintenance company, had spent two days queuing at the local municipal office to renew his residence permit. "I got there at 9am on the first day and my number was 26; by lunchtime they were only up to number 6 and they close at 2pm," he complained. "You have to renew every bit of paper here every few years but I can't afford two days off to queue in an office. There are no staff now because of the cuts, so it all takes longer. It's like everywhere – as soon as the recession hits, it's the immigrants who cop it worst."  Conversation turned to a local couple, who are desperate to leave Spain but who can't because their house is still unsold after four years on the market - despite dropping the asking price from €1 million to €750,000. In 1992 the BBC spent millions of pounds launching an ill-fated soap opera, Eldorado, following the fortunes of British expats on the Costa del Sol. The project flopped and was cancelled a year later. Now, 20 years later, the real-life diaspora is experiencing an equally disastrous end to its Iberian dream. Times are desperate in Spain. More than a million people took the streets earlier this month to protest at budget cuts, 24 per cent unemployment and the rising cost of living. The price of milk and bread has risen by 48 per cent during the last year, according to a recent study, and of potatoes by 116 per cent. Electricity bills are up 11 per cent while property prices are in free fall; they have declined for 15 consecutive quarters and are 41 per cent lower than in 2006. Several of its banks are faltering: this weekend Spain's government is preparing to pump a further €19 billion into Bankia, the country's fourth-largest lender, in the biggest single bank bailout in the country's history. Trading in the bank's shares was suspended on Friday until negotiations over the rescue were complete. Santander, Europe's largest bank, was among 11 Spanish financial institutions to be downgraded by the credit rating agency Standard and Poor earlier this month; and there's no sign of anything like economic recovery on the horizon. Expats are finding life hard in a country where they once basked in a cheaper way of life. Around one million Britons spend part or all of the year in Spain, but thousands are now returning home – and more want to, but say they can't afford to because their property is no longer worth what they paid for it. For the first time since 1998, Spain recorded a drop in foreign residents last year, according to newly released figures. With its narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and children riding horses down the main road, Frigiliana lives up to most tourists' idea of an authentic Spanish village. But appearances can be deceptive. Out of its 3,000-strong population, 1,280 are foreign nationals including 700 Britons, making the village one of the most expat-dominated in Spain. The school advertises itself as bilingual. The British population is so large that the local council pays Kevin Wright, a former travel rep from Leicestershire who has lived in Spain for more than 20 years, to run a "foreigners' department". He helps expats deal with everything from local business permits to burst pipes and land disputes with neighbours, and has noticed changes since the eurozone crisis began. "Before, I was getting 10 newbies a week moving here from the UK; now I get one," he said. "Some Brits have lived here for 20 years but now families move out here then six, eight months later pack up and go back because they can't find work, or didn't realise what the cost of living would be." Mr Wright says many Britons fail to learn Spanish or to assimilate, so that the community becomes dependent on itself – to its cost. "People think they can set themselves up doing business to other Brits, like finance or house sales and rentals, or pool maintenance, gardening and cleaning. "But the property market isn't there any more and people have cut back and do their own maintenance, so there's less work." In desperate economic times, the expat community is increasingly vulnerable to financial trickery. "The worst people for scamming you are other Brits," said Gary Smith, a builder, who emigrated two years ago. "You trust them more but they just take your money for an investment and you never see a penny." Elderly residents are particularly vulnerable. The exchange rate - still far less favourable than five years ago - has meant British pensions and other income in sterling do not stretch as far as they once did. Julia Hilling moved from the UK to Fuengirola, along the coast from Frigiliana, 20 years ago with her husband. They bought a spacious, three-bedroomed apartment with two balcony patios in an upmarket area, overlooking the town's castle. Six years ago, Mrs Hilling, by then a widow aged 83, was persuaded by an independent financial adviser to take out a full mortgage on the apartment. She was told the equity raised would be invested, risk-free, to provide an income, while the mortgage would help offset Spain's 34 per cent inheritance tax when she died. Now 89, Mrs Hilling has never seen any return on her money, owes more than €300,000 to Rothschild Bank on the mortgage and relies on handouts from her children to stay in Spain. "It's devastating," she said. "The man was British, very charming, and said there was no risk. My children said 'Mummy, please don't do this', but I needed the extra income. Now I'm fighting for my life and my home." She is one of more than 100 mainly elderly British expats who have banded together in a Spanish court action to have their mortgages voided, arguing they were mis-sold. Rothschild and several Scandinavian banks also named in the legal action claim the financial advisers are to blame; and the advisers, who are not regulated in Spain as they are in Britain, insist the risk was mentioned in the small print. In a country fighting for its own survival, Spanish politicians are not unduly concerned with the plight of British residents, particularly when many are retired so do not actively contribute to the national economy. Spain's government is currently involved in a dispute with Britain over extent of free health care for Britons under EU law and there are moves to force them to pay 10 per cent of their prescription costs. But for some, returning home remains unthinkable. Former fitness instructor and gym owner Jo Morrison, 49, moved to Spain from London with her partner Lloyd 11 years ago. In 2008 she sold her house in Putney so she could open a gym in Nerja but the project failed after her business partner pulled out, and then the global financial crisis erupted. She now works as a cleaner while renting a one-bedroom home. "Sometimes we've gone without food and I still can't believe that I don't have my house or any savings any more," she said. "But Spain is my home now. I'd rather sleep on the beach than go back to the UK."

Friday, 25 May 2012

EU cookie implementation deadline is today

A year after its implementation in May 2011, the European Commission's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive will finally start to be enforced as of tonight, meaning visitors to websites are required to be informed of, and given choice over, the site's intentions to store their data in cookies. Though there has been fierce opposition to the directive, some companies, such as the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian, have now begun implementing measures that range from multiple user choices in the level of information shared with the site, to a single message informing the user that, by continuing to browse, they have automatically agreed to have their information stored. Further reading EU cookie law is a 'restraint to trade online', says online retailer Most UK organisations not compliant with EU cookie law New EU cookie law set to come into force But the majority of companies, it is widely reported, will miss tonight's deadline. While the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) still disagrees that a "one size fits all" policy of standardisation is not the way forward when enforcing cookie legislation, some believe such a framework is the only way forward. Society for engineering and technology professionals, the Institution of Engineering & Technology said, "The implementation of this directive is likely to prove very variable until the introduction of a set of standards on the best way to provide a balance between easy browsing and personal privacy. "We had hoped that more progress would have been made on achieving this in the 12 month implementation delay that the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, gave British organisations."

The entire Greek banking system is in danger: the banks are now facing the worst of all outcomes, deposit flight,

It is not only Greeks who are worried about their savings. Data show depositors have also taken flight from banks in Belgium, France and Italy. And on Thursday, Spain’s Bankia was reported to have seen more than €1-billion drained by its customers in the past week. Greeks are afraid they could be hit by rapid devaluation if the country leaves the European single currency, while customers at Bankia have been rattled by the government’s takeover of the recently floated bank on May 9 and growing uncertainty about the final cost of Spain’s banking reforms. In Greece, sources at two banks told Reuters that withdrawals on Tuesday had taken place at about the same rate as on Monday. “The entire Greek banking system is in danger: the banks are now facing the worst of all outcomes, deposit flight,” said Arnaud Poutier, deputy CEO of IG Markets France. That flight started at least two years ago, as the debt crisis grew more serious. Greece’s banks have lost €72-billion in deposits since the start of 2010, or about 30 per cent, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters. Five of Greece’s top banks saw €37-billion taken out last year, including €12-billion from EFG Eurobank and €8-9 billion apiece at National Bank of Greece, Piraeus and Alpha Bank. In February, Evangelos Venizelos, finance minister at the time, said only €16-billion had gone abroad, with a third of that going to Britain. Savers have shifted to property, gold and other banks, or stashed it privately. In Greece, this slow-speed run on deposits has not caused panic. But that could quickly change if there is a sudden loss of confidence in the banks. Savers lost faith in Britain’s Northern Rock overnight in September 2008, queuing for hours in the days that followed to take out their cash, despite a guarantee safeguarding most deposits. The British government ended up nationalizing the bank. “It (Greek withdrawals) is not a huge number in percentage terms, but it is still a very worrying story. But deposit flight has been going on for two years. What we are seeing in the euro zone is a slow-motion bank run,” said Michael Riddell, fund manager at M&G International Sovereign Bond Fund. Deposits shifted around Europe dramatically last year, analysis of data from more than 120 listed European banks show. Two Belgian banks, bailed out Dexia and restructured KBC saw their deposits fall by €120-billion. The bulk of the change resulted from the Belgian state’s nationalization of Dexia’s Belgian banking business, but retail customers pulled out €7-billion from Dexia around the time of its break-up in October 2011. KBC also sold a banking subsidiary, Centea, leading to reduced deposits, but the majority of its shortfall came from withdrawals by U.S. institutions of money market funds. The Worldscope data includes the value of money held by the bank or financial company on behalf of its customers, including demand, savings, money market deposits, negotiable debt securities – certificates of deposit, along with foreign office and deposit accounts. Securities sold to customers under repurchase agreements are excluded. Based on these criteria, some €184-billion was taken from France’s biggest listed banks, including around €33-billion from Crédit Agricole SA and €82-billion from BNP Paribas SA. French banks were hit last year by their heavy exposure to Greece and concerns about their liquidity that forced them to accelerate plans to shrink. Worries the euro zone crisis would spread also saw about €30-billion in deposits leave Italian banks, although inflows to BBVA helped limit the net outflow from Spain. Cash flooded into Britain; more than €140-billion was deposited in four big banks alone. The U.K. benefits from its position outside the euro zone and its Asia-focused banks HSBC and Standard Chartered are seen as particular safe-havens. Other banks to see big inflows included Barclays PLC, Germany’s Deutsche Bank AG, Switzerland’s Credit Suisse Group and UBS AG and Russia’s Sberbank and VTB.

Google plans to warn more than half a million users of a computer infection that may knock their computers off the Internet this summer.

Unknown to most of them, their problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world. In a highly unusual response, the FBI set up a safety net months ago using government computers to prevent Internet disruptions for those infected users. But that system will be shut down July 9 -- killing connections for those people.

The FBI has run an impressive campaign for months, encouraging people to visit a website that will inform them whether they're infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet.

On Tuesday, May 22, Google announced it would throw its weight into the awareness campaign, rolling out alerts to users via a special message that will appear at the top of the Google search results page for users with affected computers, CNET reported. 

“We believe directly messaging affected users on a trusted site and in their preferred language will produce the best possible results,” wrote Google security engineer Damian Menscher in a post on the company’s security blog.

“If more devices are cleaned and steps are taken to better secure the machines against further abuse, the notification effort will be well worth it,” he wrote.

The challenge, and the reason for the awareness campaigns: Most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.

Last November, when the FBI and other authorities were preparing to take down a hacker ring that had been running an Internet ad scam on a massive network of infected computers, the agency realized this may become an issue.

"We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands because ... if we just pulled the plug on their criminal infrastructure and threw everybody in jail, the victims of this were going to be without Internet service," said Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent. "The average user would open up Internet Explorer and get `page not found' and think the Internet is broken."

On the night of the arrests, the agency brought in Paul Vixie, chairman and founder of Internet Systems Consortium, to install two Internet servers to take the place of the truckload of impounded rogue servers that infected computers were using. Federal officials planned to keep their servers online until March, giving everyone opportunity to clean their computers.

But it wasn't enough time.

A federal judge in New York extended the deadline until July.

Now, said Grasso, "the full court press is on to get people to address this problem." And it's up to computer users to check their PCs.

'We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands...'

- Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent

This is what happened:

Hackers infected a network of probably more than 570,000 computers worldwide. They took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system to install malicious software on the victim computers. This turned off antivirus updates and changed the way the computers reconcile website addresses behind the scenes on the Internet's domain name system.

The DNS system is a network of servers that translates a web address -- such as http://www.foxnews.com -- into the numerical addresses that computers use. Victim computers were reprogrammed to use rogue DNS servers owned by the attackers. This allowed the attackers to redirect computers to fraudulent versions of any website.

The hackers earned profits from advertisements that appeared on websites that victims were tricked into visiting. The scam netted the hackers at least $14 million, according to the FBI. It also made thousands of computers reliant on the rogue servers for their Internet browsing.

When the FBI and others arrested six Estonians last November, the agency replaced the rogue servers with Vixie's clean ones. Installing and running the two substitute servers for eight months is costing the federal government about $87,000.

The number of victims is hard to pinpoint, but the FBI believes that on the day of the arrests, at least 568,000 unique Internet addresses were using the rogue servers. Five months later, FBI estimates that the number is down to at least 360,000. The U.S. has the most, about 85,000, federal authorities said. Other countries with more than 20,000 each include Italy, India, England and Germany. Smaller numbers are online in Spain, France, Canada, China and Mexico.

Vixie said most of the victims are probably individual home users, rather than corporations that have technology staffs who routinely check the computers.

FBI officials said they organized an unusual system to avoid any appearance of government intrusion into the Internet or private computers. And while this is the first time the FBI used it, it won't be the last.

"This is the future of what we will be doing," said Eric Strom, a unit chief in the FBI's Cyber Division. "Until there is a change in legal system, both inside and outside the United States, to get up to speed with the cyber problem, we will have to go down these paths, trail-blazing if you will, on these types of investigations."

Now, he said, every time the agency gets near the end of a cyber case, "we get to the point where we say, how are we going to do this, how are we going to clean the system" without creating a bigger mess than before




Sunday, 20 May 2012

Three killed in northern Italy earthquake

Three people have been killed in a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Italy near Bologna, according to reports. The quake that struck at just after 4am local time was centred 21.75 miles north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of six miles, the US Geological Survey said. Italian news agency Ansa, citing emergency services, said two people were killed in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara when a ceramics factory collapsed. Another person was killed in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno. In late January, A 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings. The tremor was one of the strongest to shake the region, seismologists said. Initial television footage indicated that older buildings had suffered damage. Roofs collapsed, church towers showed cracks and the bricks of some stone walls tumbled into the street during the quake. As dawn broke over the region, residents milled about the streets inspecting the damage. Italy's Sky TG24 showed images of the collapsed ceramics factory in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara where the two workers were reportedly killed. The structure, which appeared to be a hangar of sorts, had twisted metal supports jutting out at odd angles amid the mangled collapsed roof. The quake “was a strong one, and it lasted quite a long time”, said Emilio Bianco, receptionist at Modena's Canalgrande hotel, housed in an ornate 18th century palazzo. The hotel suffered no damage and Modena itself was spared, but guests spilled into the streets as soon as the quake hit, he said. Many people were still awake in the town since it was a “white night”, with shops and restaurants open all night. Museums were supposed to have remained open as well but closed following the bombing of a school in southern Italy that killed one person. The quake epicentre was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide, but was felt as far away as Tuscany and northern Alto Adige. The initial quake was followed about an hour later by a 5.1-magnitude aftershock, USGS said. And it was preceded by a 4.1-magnitude tremor. In late January, a 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings. In 2009, a devastating tremor killed more than 300 people in the central city of L'Aquila.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

‘Save euro’ plea to Germans as Spain slumps

BRITAIN yesterday piled pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to save the euro. 6 comments Related Stories PM: Make or break for euro HE to issue plea to Merkel to fork out as only way to stave off meltdown New French Pres gets a soakingFrench warning for CameronSarky poll malarky will leave PM narky David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne said she must use her financial clout to stop the single currency collapsing. The PM hammered the message home in emergency talks via video-link with Mrs Merkel and French president Francois Hollande. It came as the chaos in Greece spread to Spain — with fears of a run on banks in both countries. Greeks have taken £560million from local banks in the past week. And yesterday Spain’s Bankia bank was forced to deny reports customers had taken £800million out of its coffers in the past seven days. Last night the fears hit Santander UK as credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the bank along with its Spanish owner and 15 other Spanish banks. And credit agency Fitch downgraded Greece on fears it will be booted out of the Eurozone. Earlier, Mr Osborne said the Treasury had drawn up emergency plans to cope with Greece quitting the euro. He told MPs: “Britain will be prepared for whatever comes.” Mr Cameron had warned countries such as Greece and Spain can only survive if richer countries did more to “share the burden of adjustment”. He also backed Eurobonds to raise billions to prop up crisis-hit countries — a proposal that would have to be bankrolled by Berlin. After the video chat, a Downing Street spokesman said the PM urged the eurozone to take “decisive action to ensure financial stability and prevent contagion”.

Spain’s banking crisis reached Britain’s high streets last night when the credit rating of Santander UK was cut.

In a sweeping reassessment, ratings agency Moody’s announced in Madrid that it is downgrading 16 Spanish banks because it could not be sure of the ability of the country’s government to provide the necessary support.

Santander UK was among the banks highlighted after the ratings agency took aim at its parent Banco Santander, based in Spain. 

The Spanish banking crisis has hit the British high street, with the news that Santander has had its credit rating cut

The Spanish banking crisis has hit the British high street, with the news that Santander has had its credit rating cut

Santander is one of the biggest players in UK retail banking, having taken over the former Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester, Bradford & Bingley and most recently the English branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The new lower A2 credit rating is certain to be a cause of anxiety to Santander UK’s millions of British customers. 

Nevertheless, they can be confident that their deposits up to £85,000 are guaranteed by the British government should there be a loss of confidence.



Sunday, 6 May 2012

Brink's Mat the reason that Great Train Robber was shot dead in Marbella

The Brink’s-Mat curse even touched on the Great Train Robbery gang of 1963. One of them, Charlie Wilson, found himself in trouble when £3 million of Brink’s-Mat investors’ money went missing in a drug deal. In April 1990, he paid the price when a young British hood knocked on the front door of his hacienda north of Marbella and shot Wilson and his pet husky dog before coolly riding off down the hill on a yellow bicycle.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

British tourist falls to her death from hotel balcony in Magalluf

23 year old British tourist has fallen to her death from the third floor balcony of her hotel in Magalluf, Mallorca. Emergency sources said it happened at 4.25am Saturday morning at the Hotel Teix in Calle Pinada. Local police and emergency health services went to scene. After 20 minutes of an attempt to re-animate her heart, the woman was pronounced dead. Online descriptions for the Hotel say it is the best place to stay of you are looking for non-stop partying, adding it not suitable for families.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Four of the last reporters and photographers willing to cover crime stories have been slain in less than a week in violence-torn Veracruz state

Four of the last reporters and photographers willing to cover crime stories have been slain in less than a week in violence-torn Veracruz state, where two Mexican drug cartels are warring over control of smuggling routes and targeting sources of independent information. The brutal campaign is bleeding the media and threatening to turn Veracruz into the latest state in Mexico where fear snuffs out reporting on the drug war. Three photojournalists who worked the perilous crime beat in the port city of Veracruz were found dismembered and dumped in plastic bags in a canal Thursday, less than a week after a reporter for an investigative newsmagazine was beaten and strangled in her home in the state capital of Xalapa. Press freedom groups said all three photographers had temporarily fled the state after receiving threats last year. The organizations called for immediate government action to halt a wave of attacks that has killed at least seven current and former reporters and photographers in Veracruz over the last 18 months. Like most of those, the men found Thursday were among the few journalists left working on crime-related stories in the state. Threats and killings have spawned an atmosphere of terror and self-censorship, and most local media are too intimidated to report on drug-related violence. Social media and blogs are often the only outlets reporting on serious crime. Veracruz isn't the only battleground for Mexican media. In at least three northeastern states, journalists are under siege from assailants throwing grenades inside newsrooms and gunmen firing into newspaper and TV station buildings. In the state of Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas, local media stopped covering drug trafficking violence, mentioning drug cartels or reporting on organized crime shortly after two gangs began fighting for control of Nuevo Laredo in 2004. As part of that war, reporters were targeted to keep them silent or because they had links to gangs. Mexico has become one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists in recent years, amid a government offensive against drug cartels and fighting among gangs that have brought tens of thousands of deaths, kidnappings and extortion cases. Prosecutions in journalist killings are almost nonxistent, although that is widely true of all homicides and other serious crimes in Mexico. The latest killings came in Boca del Rio, a town near the port city of Veracruz where police found the bodies. The victims bore signs of torture and had been dismembered, the state prosecutors' office said. One victim was identified as Guillermo Luna Varela, a crime-news photographer for the website http://www.veracruznews.com.mx who was last seen by local reporters covering a car accident Wednesday afternoon. According to a fellow journalist, who insisted on speaking anonymously out of fear, Luna was in his 20s and had begun his career working for the local newspaper Notiver. The journalist said Luna was the nephew of another of the men found dead, Gabriel Huge. Huge was in his early 30s and worked as a photojournalist for Notiver until last summer, when he fled the state soon after two of the paper's reporters were slain in still-unsolved killings. He had returned to the state to work as a reporter, but it was not immediately clear what kind of stories he was covering recently. State officials said the third victim was Esteban Rodriguez, who was a photographer for the local newspaper AZ until last summer, when he too quit and fled the state. He later came back, but took up work as a welder. The London-based press freedom group Article 19 said he, like the other two, had been a crime photographer. The fourth victim was Luna's girlfriend, Irasema Becerra, state prosecutors said. Article 19 said in a report last year that Luna, Varela and Rodriguez were among 13 Veracruz journalists who had fled their homes because of crime-related threats and official unwillingness to protect them or investigate the danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in 2008 that Huge had been detained and beaten by federal police as he tried to cover a fatal auto accident involving officers. Last June, Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, a columnist and editorial director for Notiver, was shot to death in Veracruz along with his wife and one of his children. Authorities that month also found the body of journalist Noel Lopez buried in a clandestine grave in the town of Chinameca. Lopez, who disappeared three months earlier, had worked for the weeklies Horizonte and Noticias de Acayucan and for the daily newspaper La Verdad. The following month, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, a police reporter for Notiver, was found with her throat cut in the state. Lopez was found after a suspect in another case confessed to killing him, but the other two murders have not been resolved. The cartel war in Veracruz reached a bloody peak in September when 35 bodies were dumped on a main highway in rush-hour traffic. Local law enforcement in the state was considered so corrupt and infiltrated by the Zetas and other gangs that Mexico's federal government fired 800 officers and 300 administrative personnel in the city of Veracruz-Boca del Rio in December and sent in about 800 marines to patrol. Mike O'Connor, the Committee to Protect Journalists' representative for Mexico, said journalists in Veracruz were exercising an unusual degree of self-censorship even before Ordaz and Lopez were killed. He said media avoided much coverage of crime and corruption. "Important news was not covered because it might upset the Zetas. Then these guys were killed and self-censorship cracked down even more," O'Connor said. "Almost all of the police beat reporters left town after those killings." Regina Martinez, a correspondent for the national magazine Proceso, continued to cover crime-related stories along with a handful of other journalists, however. On Saturday, authorities went to her home in Xalapa, the state capital, after a neighbor reported it to be suspiciously quiet. They found the reporter dead in her bathroom with signs she had been beaten and strangled. "Self-censorship was extraordinarily strong but whoever killed these journalists wanted more," O'Connor said. "It still wasn't enough to satisfy whoever killed these journalists." Mexico's human rights commission says 74 media workers were slain from 2000 to 2011. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 51 were killed in that time. It noted in a statement on the Mexico killings that Thursday was World Press Freedom Day.

Greek far-right parties could end up with as much as 20 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has intensified the xenophobic atmosphere in the country.

At night, the streets leading to Omonoia Square are empty. That wasn't always the case. The area was the premier multicultural neighborhood of Athens and one of the first quarters to be gentrified. Jazz bars and Indian restaurants lined the streets, separated by the occasional rooms-by-the-hour hotel. It was a quarter full of immigrants, drug addicts and African prostitutes, but also of journalists, ambitious young artists and teenagers from private schools. Today, the immigrants stay home once night falls. They are afraid of groups belonging to the "angry citizens," a kind of militia that beats up foreigners and claims to help the elderly withdraw money from cash machines without being robbed. Such groups are the product of an initiative started by the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi -- Golden Dawn -- the party which has perpetrated pogroms in Agios Panteleimon, another Athens neighborhood with a large immigrant population. There are now three outwardly xenophobic parties in Greece. According to recent surveys, together they could garner up to 20 percent of the vote in elections on Sunday: the anti-Semitic party LAOS stands to win 4 percent; the nationalist party Independent Greeks -- a splinter group of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party -- is forecast to win 11 percent; and the right extremists of Golden Dawn could end up with between 5 and 7 percent. My name is Xenia, the hospitable. Greece itself should really be called Xenia: Tourism, emigration and immigration are important elements of our history. But hospitality is no longer a priority in our country, a fact which the ugly presence of Golden Dawn makes clear. A Personal Attack Shaved heads, military uniforms, Nazi chants, Hitler greetings: How should a Greek journalist deal with such people? Should one just ignore them and leave them unmentioned? Should one denounce them and demand that they be banned? One shouldn't forget that they are violent and have perpetrated several attacks against foreigners and leftists. I thought long and hard about how to write about Golden Dawn so that my article was in no way beneficial to the party. On April 12, the daily Kathimerini ran my story under the headline "Banality of Evil." In the piece, I carefully explained why it was impossible to carry on a dialogue with such people and why I thought the neo-Nazi party should disappear from media coverage and be banned. Five days later, an anonymous reply to my article appeared on the Golden Dawn website. It was a 2,500-word-long personal attack in which the fascists recounted my entire career, mocked my alleged foreign roots (I was born in Hamburg) and even, for no apparent reason, mentioned my 13-year-old daughter. The unnamed authors indirectly threatened me as well: "To put it in the mother tongue of foreign Xenia: 'Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat, kommt Attentat!'" In other words, watch your back. Most Greeks believe that Golden Dawn has connections to both the police and to the country's secret service. Nevertheless, I went to the authorities to ask what I should do. I was told that I should be careful. They told me that party thugs could harass me, beat me or terrorize me over the phone. It would be better, they said, if I stopped writing about them. If I wished to react to the threats, they suggested I file a complaint against Golden Dawn's service provider. That, however, would be difficult given that the domain is based somewhere in the United States. Like Weimar Germany A friend told me that I should avoid wearing headphones on the street so that I can hear what is going on around me. My daughter now has nightmares about being confronted by members of Golden Dawn. Three of her classmates belong to the party. The three boys have posted pictures of party events on their Facebook pages. For their profile image, they have chosen the ancient Greek Meandros symbol, which, in the red-on-black manifestation used by Golden Dawn, resembles a swastika. The group's slogans include "Foreigners Out!" and "The Garbage Should Leave the Country!" The fact that immigration has become such an issue in the worst year of the ongoing economic crisis in the country can be blamed on the two parties in government. The Socialist PASOK and the conservative Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, or ND) are running xenophobic campaigns. ND has said it intends to repeal a law which grants Greek citizenship to children born in Greece to immigrant parents. And cabinet member Michalis Chrysochoidis, of PASOK, has announced "clean up operations" whereby illegal immigrants are to be rounded up in encampments and then deported. When he recently took a stroll through the center of Athens to collect accolades for his commitment to the cause, some called out to him: "Golden Dawn has cleaned up Athens!" Yet, Chrysochoidis is the best loved PASOK politician in his Athens district, in part because of his xenophobic sentiments. His party comrade, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, is just as popular. Loverdos has warned Greek men not to sleep with foreign prostitutes for fear of contracting HIV and thus endangering the Greek family. High unemployment of roughly 22 percent, a lack of hope, a tendency toward violence and the search for scapegoats: Analyses in the Greek press compare today's Greece with Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic. "We didn't know," said many Germans when confronted with the truth of the Holocaust after Nazi rule came to an end. After elections on May 6, no Greeks should be able to make the same claim.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Locked Up Abroad is different.

Reality TV is, at its core, about letting viewers revel in the bad decision-making of others: those who speak without thinking, who backstab, who have sex without condoms, who cheat. Frustratingly, though, reality shows—to which I am unapologetically addicted—tend to reward bad behavior, by giving its villains notoriety, spinoffs, opportunities to endorse weight-loss products, a nice sideline in paid interviews with supermarket tabloids, and other D-list rewards.

Locked Up Abroad is different. The National Geographic show, the sixth season of which premiered last week, gives its stars something they wouldn’t get on other reality shows: their comeuppance.

Having debuted in the U.K. (under the title Banged Up Abroad), Locked Up Abroad showcases one person (sometimes a couple) who ends up in prison overseas. Participants fit into one of two categories. The first group are the (largely) innocent: the married missionary couple who were kidnapped in the Philippines by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, for instance, or the seemingly goodhearted duo who wanted to help children in Chechnya, but ended up held hostage. These tales of the altruistic and naive can be difficult to watch.

But then there are those who rather deserve what happens to them. Typically these are drug smugglers, and their episodes follow a familiar arc. A young person—they’re almost always young—is bored or in need of cash (usually both). She is desperate or feels invincible (usually both). Someone approaches her and offers a seemingly great deal: an all-expenses-paid, luxurious overseas trip in exchange for a small favor. Sometimes the would-be employer is upfront and admits he needs a drug mule, but downplays the risk; other times, he hints at harmless-sounding illegalities, like bringing back legal goods to beat the export tax. In a few cases, the cover story is painfully thin: Come with me to check out this cool new nail polish technology only available in Thailand, for example. (That woman was in a vulnerable place: She had just been released on bail after killing her partner’s former husband—in self-defense, she claimed.)

The drug smugglers are caught, of course, usually at the airport, and brought to prison. And while a few episodes have taken place in developed countries—Spain, Japan, South Korea—the majority of our anti-heroes end up incarcerated in places with some of the dirtiest and most dangerous penitentiaries in the world.

Take last week’s episode, “From Hollywood to Hell.” (And pardon my spoilers, but this installment is too good not to describe in detail.) In 2001, actor Erik Aude was living the marginal Hollywood dream. An ür-bro, he had played bit parts in Dude, Where’s My Car?(credited as “Musclehead”) and 7th Heaven (“Boyfriend”) when a gym buddy asked him to go to Turkey to bring back “leather goods.” Aude makes the trip, and though a drug-sniffing dog alerts authorities at the Turkish airport, they find nothing—so Aude feels sure the whole thing is legit. He even recommends that one of his brothers start couriering for his friend. Then, when his brother backs out of a planned trip to Pakistan in 2002, Aude steps in, and shit gets real.

It is difficult to feel sorry for Aude. After his escort dumps him in an Islamabad hotel and warns him not to leave because the area is unsafe for Americans, he doesn’t head to the embassy or the airport. Instead, he goes jogging—and even tries to flirt with girls in headscarves on the street (with disastrous results). And when he is taken to the airport with just one suitcase, he is (he claims) not the least bit suspicious that he might be a drug mule. When a customs official asks him whether his trip was for business or pleasure, he cheeses, “Pleasure is my business.”

Aude’s episode is mind-bogglingly watchable, not least because he—of course!—plays himself in the re-enactment. In his telling, he was a virtual action star: On at least three occasions, he single-handedly fights back dozens of Pakistanis. After he takes out a prison bully, he is hailed a hero. He rejects a reduced sentence because it would require him to plead guilty—and his pride is more valuable than his freedom, he says.

Aside from those truly in the wrong place at the wrong time, the most sympathetic characters of Locked Up Abroad may be the embassy employees called in to assist the suspected smugglers. Inevitably, Locked Up Abroad participants are horrified that the embassies of their homelands—usually English-speaking countries like the U.S., the U.K., or Australia—can’t do more for them. I can just imagine U.S. Embassy workers calling “not it” every time they get word from local authorities about some young American knucklehead who thought he could sneak past security with a bag full of cocaine.

Tonight’s episode is called “The Juggler Smuggler,” and its “hero” is Mark Greening, a “party-loving” drug-runner who knows his latest trip is “doomed” when he doesn’t get his fortune told by “his favorite Gypsy woman.” I can’t wait.

Low fare airline bmibaby to close

Low fare carrier bmibaby is set to close later this year, threatening the loss of hundreds of jobs and the ending of its flights. The carrier transferred to International Airlines Group, the owners of British Airways, last month, but consultations have now started with unions about its closure in September. The GMB union said it was "devastating" news, especially for the East Midlands, where hundreds of jobs are now threatened with the axe. With bmi Regional, bmibaby transferred to International Airlines Group ownership on completion of the purchase from Lufthansa. IAG has consistently said that bmibaby and bmi Regional are not part of its long-term plans. A statement said: "Progress has been made with a potential buyer for bmi Regional, but so far this has not been possible for bmibaby, despite attempts over many months by both Lufthansa and IAG. Bmibaby has therefore started consultation to look at future options including, subject to that consultation, a proposal to close in September this year." Peter Simpson, bmi interim managing director, said: "We recognise that these are unsettling times for bmibaby employees, who have worked tirelessly during a long period of uncertainty. Bmibaby has delivered high levels of operational performance and customer service, but has continued to struggle financially, losing more than £100 million in the last four years. In the consultation process, we will need to be realistic about our options. "To help stem losses as quickly as possible and as a preliminary measure, we will be making reductions to bmibaby's flying programme from June. We sincerely apologise to all customers affected and will be providing full refunds and doing all we can with other airlines to mitigate the impact of these changes." Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the pilots' union Balpa, said: "This is bad news for jobs. Bmibaby pilots are disappointed and frustrated that, even though there appears to be potential buyers, we are prevented from speaking with them to explore how we can contribute to developing a successful business plan. "The frustration has now turned to anger following the news that Flybe (which is part owned by BA) has moved onto many of these bmibaby routes without any opportunity for staff to look at options and alternatives. Balpa's priority is to protect jobs; and we will use whatever means we can to do so." The changes mean that all bmibaby flights to and from Belfast will cease from June 11, although this will not affect bmi mainline's services to London Heathrow. Bmibaby services from East Midlands to Amsterdam, Paris, Geneva, Nice, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newquay, and from Birmingham to Knock and Amsterdam, will end on the same date.

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