Current Affairs


Paul Conroy – Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment


In a packed room members of the Frontline Club  listened to Paul tell his story.  A seasoned war correspondent, he cannot resist the urge to use humor as he speaks. Through Paul’s writing, Marie Colvin was remembered. As he read extracts from his book, each tale brought her momentarily back to life.  His stories of her awful grasp of modern technology filled the room with laughter.

Crap Soldier – saved by the Internet

The discussion turns to his last assignment with Marie and the events of that day.  Lindsey Hilsum asks him about the nature of his injuries.   Paul smiles and tells us that he could put his hand through his leg. A collective in-take of breath fills the room.  That has got to have hurt.

Paul told us how he put his hand in his leg, felt that the artery was fine and then used a grubby scarf and an ethernet cable to create a tourniquet.

so your military training helped you?

‘well I was a pretty crap soldier, really I’m here thanks to the internet, without modern technology that ethernet cable wouldn’t have been blown out the building, it really is the most useful thing when you’re making a tourniquet’

(Perhaps the most interesting way a journalist has been saved by the internet?)

I couldnt give a shite about the politics

Underneath the humor, there is a more solemn air in the room.  Everyone there is remembering their colleagues that were lost.  The role of war correspondents is essential.  It is their job to bear witness and get the story out there. When Paul is asked about the accusations that he is no longer impartial he replies

I couldn’t give a shite about the politics, I’m just saying what I saw, am I biased towards the FSA, well I owe them my life.”  

He goes on to point out that it was impossible to report both sides in this war, the other side was targeting press for starters.  Will he be going back out into the field?  Of course, he replies, I’ve still got to get a hole in the other leg!


‘if journalists don’t speak society will be left with no options’ -An Evening with Anabel Hernandez 

On a typical November evening in Amsterdam we meet Anabel Hernandez, an investigative journalist and writer from Mexico. As well as writing for newspapers and magazines, she is author of Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers where she exposes details of Mexico’s drug cartels.

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Anabel lives in Mexico City and has spent 5 years investigating drug cartels and organized crime. She conducted an in-depth investigation and her work, backed up with documents, testimonials, and files revealed amongst other facts that the Chief of Police and Secretary of Security were working for the cartels. Similarly, the federal police protect international airports and are directly involved in the traffic of money and drugs.

As a result of her research Anabel now believes that these officials are in fact more dangerous than the cartels. With the cartels everyone knows who they are, but the government officials have the power to operate with both anonymity and impunity.

She tells us of how the drug cartels are under the protection of the government and that ‘each cartel has a piece of the cake’ with their own territories.  This is to discourage fighting amongst themselves. Initially the government tried to control the drug cartels but now the cartels control the government.

She tells us that ‘democracy in Mexico doesn’t exist’ and that the violence that journalists suffer is a mere example of what everyone else is suffering. In the last 6 years 80,000 people have been murdered by drug cartels and 25,000 people have been ‘disappeared’. Anabel says that ‘no one is safe in Mexico’.

Anabel has two children.  When asked if she is scared for them she answers, ‘yes, all the time’ but that ‘We [journalists] live like everyone, under the violence’.  She goes on to say that ‘real life can be very difficult, a death threat on twitter is laughable in comparison to real, live threats from police.’

Her family were attacked at a family gathering.  It was a warning designed to show her, if she didn’t care about her own life, she should care about the lives of her family. She says ‘I have to live with that guilt; my job causes danger to my family…I have been paying a very high price to announce all of this, I have received threats from police but I decided to speak out anyway’.

She is asked by the audience, ‘Annabel, where is the hope?’ Her answer isn’t one of hope.  Instead she explains once again that ‘the power of the cartels is the money’, and that it needs to be confiscated but it will never happen.  Illegal drugs are easily obtained everywhere and so cartels have money and connections everywhere. She stresses that buying drugs gives money to the cartels. This money is used to murder people; it funds other crimes too from child pornography to human trafficking to terrorism. Her research has shown her that the dirty money moves in every economy.

“[people think that]…what is going on in Mexico is far away and not my business…however it is everyone’s problem around the world….you are not as safe as you think, even here (in the Netherlands) the money of the cartels gives them power to corrupt everything…everyone who uses drugs, gets away with murder.”

One of the most poignant aspects of Anabel’s story is that it is not merely the tale of an individual being threatened but that in reality  her story is ‘just a little example of how people in Mexico are suffering’.  Anabel expresses a belief that through her work she may contribute to a small change in Mexican society – ‘good journalists can change the story of their country’. She stresses that although writing in Mexico is more dangerous than drug trafficking,; ‘ I have hope that good journalists will change the story of Mexico’.

you can find Anabel’s book here:




Don’t Bomb For Peace – Front Line Club – Crossing the Red Line


A rather heated and tense debate took place tonight at the Front Line Club.  The topic? Syria. To Intervene or not to Intervene was the question.  (Where intervention meant a military solution).

The below quotes are the most reasonable ones from the evening.  Most of the room wanted military intervention or no intervention but with a strong leaning towards intervention.  There was no room for other options.  Right at the end my point that bombing for peace was a ludicrous idea was picked up and carried but it took a back seat to a debate where people were passionate but ill-informed.

People did not know the legality of the international system yet quoted legal reasoning.  People didn’t understand how the world really worked and this frustrated me.  In a room full of educated, supposedly informed peers I felt a severe lack of informed opinions and instead a large amount of passion, anger and pity directed towards the situation within Syria.

For a lot of the evening I felt like the only sane person in the room.  Excuse the crudeness but I have to say bombing for peace, fucking for virginity, equally pointless.

However before I get too involved in my own opinions let me summarise the evening.  Below are the Panel and some of the things that they said:

Chaired by Paddy O’Connell of BBC Radio 4′s Broadcasting House.

Shiraz Maher is a Senior Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London, and a contributor to The Spectator

Shiraz- “The nature of the strike will determine what happens next….. I’m not saying it’d be clean I’m not saying it’s perfect, we will inevitably kill indirectly and unintentionally some civilians but if we stand back that regime will do that every single day.”
He goes on to say that there is a need to create something like Libya, create a space for action.  His opinion with regards to Assad “I don’t think it should be an accident, we should kill him”

Scott Lucas is professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView.

 Scott:  “Assad has to step down” …..”With respect Paddy there is a bit skewing that is occurring now, because there is a this idea that intervention means bombing….The point here is that I actually don’t think the question should mean bombing it should be based on a longer term intervention supporting the insurrection”.
He then says, ” Most of the Gulf states support the insurgency….I’m talking about what is….Lebanon is facing the question of refugees, the Lebanese want some type of solution…they want it soon.”

Lina Sinjab was the BBC’s correspondent in Syria until a few months ago.

Lina: “I don’t think the Iranians will fight the Americans for Assad,” she also points out that, “Hezbollah are avoiding making statements…. I think if we bet on the meetings that are going to take place in the coming 2 days on the G20…there might be a solution with the Russians to get Assad out of the country….otherwise there seems to be no other solution but to get in” (i.e military intervention)

Jonathan Steele is a columnist at The Guardian, roving foreign correspondent and author. He has reported on Afghanistan, Russia, Iraq, and many other countries.

Jonathan Steele RE: The reaction of the neighbours.  “If it’s a limited strike which Obama seemed to be talking about at the beginning, there might actually be no reaction…, if it was a really heavy strike, clearly designed at regime change, then I think they would start reacting,”  He thinks that Iran and Hezbollah would be the main reactors.

Below are some of the crowd’s points that were raised:

1.       “The United States cannot be the judge the jury (and the executioner)”

2.       Lebanese-Dutch Lady: “I definitely want Assad to go, and I want this to stop. But every single person I speak to in Syria doesn’t want an American Intervention because They fear that there are going to be more civilian deaths unfortunately, because their intentions are not wholly honourable.”  She said that Negotiations haven’t even been attempted; there hasn’t been one single meeting.

3.       I’m just curious about the Syrian Kurds and what their role in all of this would be in particularly the role of Turkey…..can you add anything yourself on this?….no, I’m ignorant! *laughter of crowd*

4.       Lena Quatib, Stanford.  “I want to talk mainly about Lebanon but also this applies to Jordon.  Lebanon is already in a very critical situation because of the the refugees and not just because of the economic strain”….we have a large amount of Syrian men, sitting around responsible for families and ripe for recruitment by Islamists.

So why did I feel like the only sane person in the room?

If you review the history of military interventions the success rate is far from high

It is well considered/documented that any country that goes through a war takes 25 years to recover – so these plans to bomb for peace are no immediate solution

People in the room had passion but lacked facts

I will always advocate the need for peace, the need for logic and the need for humanity.   Syria’s plight is fucking awful but last time I checked a bomb from the West kills just as much as a Chemical attack from a middle-eastern crackpot.

I strongly recommend that you watch the entire session and comment below on what opinion you form.

to view the full event please go to:

Sandwiches, Cannabis and Activism – the Berkshire Cannabis Community’s picnic



The weather was changeable, the small crowd was determined.  A chilled, educated collection of people ranging from 18 – 74 gathered to raise awareness and form a greater sense of community. Police were there at the start; they walked around and warned people of the consequences of breaking the law.  They confiscated any cannabis they found and then when they were satisfied that it was a peaceful event, left.

I interviewed people to find out what their personal opinions were. I asked everyone the same questions to get some continuity: What do you hope to achieve from today? Why do you think cannabis should be legalized? What do you think about the system in place in the Netherlands? What problems are there associated with cannabis?

Raymond Henry Nash


At 74 years old he doesn’t drink or smoke but believes strongly in the cause here today and has done so all his life. He says that it is all about getting it medically allowed, and he is not so concerned with smokers’ rights but with the medical context.  He emphasises that cannabis can save lives; there could be cures for illnesses that are not being researched.  He believes that Holland and its approach to cannabis use is more advanced by years, it is more sophisticated and yet they have a simpler system.  In this country cannabis use is frowned upon.  The biggest problem associated with cannabis use is a lack of education.  “People don’t understand the good, bad or ugly.  There are bad things to understand as well.” He argues that the price as well, is a big driver of crime.  Legalising it would cut out the middle man out and help solve that.

Clark French, founder of the Berkshire Cannabis Community.


There were two main aims of today, first was to bring like-minded people together, to network, and build bridges.  Clark wanted to build a community, which a picnic atmosphere is perfect for.  Second was to promote public awareness, something that has definitely been successful as there has been a lot of media attention. Both from local news and national news.  “I truly believe once people look into it they won’t have a reason to keep prohibition.   Prohibition is an unjust law that creates the very problems it seeks to solve.  It criminalises otherwise law abiding citizens.  If cannabis was legalised it could be regulated and taxed.  Growers could be checked, safety requirements similar to food production could be enforced instead of funding from sales going into terrorism and harder drugs.” He believes that Holland’s system is not perfect but it’s much better than here. He also feels that a lot of people are unaware of the negative impact that prohibition has, he says the media, in part, are to blame when they print their scare stories.

In the Netherlands Cannabis has been decriminalised.  It isn’t legal but there is no punishment for smoking it in designated cafés and private places.  There are still regulations on how much you can personally carry or grow but there is discretion exercised by the law.

In the UK cannabis is a class B drug and police will confiscate, warn and can imprison you for up to 5 years.  There are many users of cannabis within Britain both recreationally and for medical purposes but all of these users do so, at risk, as they are operating outside of the law.

To look at the Berkshire Cannabis Community:


US &UK Employers – Positive News?

The news is a buzz with the increase in jobs in the UK and USA.  Is it positive news?  What does it mean for graduates?


The figures:

The end of March saw 192,000 new roles added to the American economy, although many were in areas that didn’t need a degree.  For example, it was reported by the Washington Post that 49,000 workers were gained in construction and hospitality sectors such as restaurants and bars.  Thankfully, graduates gained too, with education, healthcare and business increasing their number of positions as well.  These changes however haven’t dramatically altered the unemployment percentage, which still sits at 6.7%. This figure is an improvement on the previous year’s which was 7.5%.  Another change is the number of people applying for each job, whereas at the height of the recession there were 6 people applying for each role, now the figure has dropped to merely 2.5 according to the US Department of Labour.

How does this effect graduates?

These positive numbers mean that there can be a greater feeling of assurance with the US economy.  After all the USA still has the largest deficit in the global economy.  Due to the intrinsic connected nature of the global markets, improvements in the US economy will mean improvements in other economies too.  These increases in jobs are a tentative sign that the recession is being left behind and graduates can once again be confident in the job market.

In Britain unemployment sits at 7.2% however the coalition government is hoping that new tax reductions in the business sector will lead to a further creation of new jobs.  This is all good news for graduates.  Whether looking to stay in their home country or work abroad in different economies a helpful turn in the job markets benefits everyone including graduates. It’s often said, a rising tide lifts all boats and the USA’s increase in jobs is one such example.

The real hope is that this growth in the job market will lead to an avoidance of another recession.  The UK and the USA hope to build economies that are resistant to the factors that created the massive global depression.  With employment levels slowly increasing, both major economic powers are hoping to see their unemployment percentages drop further in the coming years.

The next issue for the USA and the UK to tackle is that of long term unemployment.  Both countries are pushing to reduce the number of people who have been out of work for over 6 months.  These long term unemployed present not only lost tax revenue and benefits to the economy but also represent a drain on social safety nets.  The Bill proposed in the USA to reinstate unemployment benefit to 2 million long term unemployed is likely to face contestation, meaning that the issue will not likely be resolved before congress break for Easter.  President Obama has also been trying to raise the national minimal wage in America, stating, that it is “good policy” and “good politics”.  According to the Guardian, “Republicans have opposed increasing the minimum wage, asserting that it will kill jobs.” An opinion not shared by Democrats.  Meanwhile in the UK there was good news as “The number of people claiming jobless benefits in the UK also fell by 24,000 to a near five-year low of 1.25 million in December”

What does this mean?

It means you can have greater confidence in the economies.  It means that jobs are increasing and the time you could spend unemployed is decreasing.  In short it is good news for graduates.

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Full Employment in Britain?

George Osborne announces changes to our tax system will result in full employment in Britain.

In a speech delivered in Essex, George Osborne discussed the implications of his tax cuts and changes to the welfare system.  He says he wants to make Britain “the best place in the world for you to find a job…I’m making a new commitment.  A commitment to fight for Full Employment in Britain. Making jobs a central goal of our economic plan.”

What are the changes to the tax system?

  • Tuesday 1st April – rate of corporation tax for business goes down from 23% to 21%
  • Sunday 6th April income tax allowance goes up so you can earn £10,000 before being taxed.

Mr Osborne says that they are, “the biggest cuts to personal and business taxes for two decades.” He continued, “They are part of our long term plan to build a more resilient economy and create jobs.”  The changes are said to help business keep more of the money that they earn with the hope that this then leads to further job generation.

What is full employment defined as?

Although he didn’t define what he meant by full employment – a term that has differing definitions, he went on to say that, “There is no reason why Britain shouldn’t aim to have the highest employment rate of any of the world’s leading economies.  To have more people working than any of the other countries in the G7 group that’s my ambition.”  Presently Britain is fourth out of the G7 group.

Labour defines Full Employment as 80% of those of working age to be in employment, another definition is when unemployment levels are at 5% or less.  Currently unemployment levels are reported as being at 7.2%.

A positive trend?

According to the Telegraph, “The lowest recorded level of unemployment was 215,800, or 1 per cent, in July 1955.”  In July of last year George Osborne reported that unemployment had fallen by 57,000 and that 1.3 million jobs had been created in the private sector.  Chris Leslie, a spokesman for Labour Treasury, said “A lot of this rhetoric is not matched by the reality. He should tell this to the 900,000 young people who have been out of the work for more than 12 months or more. Long-term youth unemployment has doubled under his watch. It’s an apology he should have been giving.”  However Labour recognized the importance of aiming for full employment as well.  Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said, “Today the goal of full employment is important for a very simple reason. The faster we return to full employment, the faster we can pay down our debt and the faster we can put the ‘something for something’ back into social security.”

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US Employers Pick Up the Pace

The numbers

The USA added 192,000 jobs to the market by the end of March according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.  However most of these jobs went in sectors that didn’t need a college degree.  According to the Washington Post, “The construction sector gained 19,000 workers, while restaurants and bars created 30,000 jobs.”   On the positive side for graduates, jobs were also created in education, healthcare, business and professional services.  The unemployment figure remains at 6.7% due to a surge in the amount of people looking for jobs however this has dropped from last year when the figure stood at 7.5%. 

Over half a million Americans re-entered the work force in March showing that the economy is increasing in resilience.  The United States Department of Labour reports that this means it is the 49th consecutive month of employment increasing.   The positive trend is also reflected in the number of applicants per vacancy, they said, “At the height of the recession, there were six job seekers for every job available. Today, it’s 2 .5 people competing for every open job.” Andrew Walker, the BBC World Service Economics correspondent said, “The new jobs all reflect decisions by private employers to hire people. Public sector employment was unchanged. A job creation number not far shy of 200,000 is fairly robust.”

What does this mean for UK graduates?

This is a good sign for UK graduates who can gain confidence in the US economy.  A strong economy in the USA will have a positive affect on the UK’s economy making it easier for graduates to find a job.  The UK’s unemployment rate is still at 7.2% but the coalition government is hoping that a cut to business taxes will allow employers to generate further jobs.  

What does the future hold?

Both the USA and the UK are hoping to make their economies far more resilient and avoid another economic downturn.  The jobs market is booming and both economies are aiming to once again reduce unemployment.  It has been reported that Barack Obama wants to tackle the issue of long term unemployment next as a third of those without work in the US have been so for over 6 months.   


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