Before the Republican party can do something about its problems (Soul-searching begins, 8 November) it has to solve its biggest problem of all. US conservatives must pop that insulating media bubble they have created. This doesn’t require turning Fox News into a liberal, or even a neutral outlet of “news”. But it does involve establishment Republicans convincing Rupert Murdoch that major changes need to happen. Further meetings need to happen with the executives of all the shock-jock radio stations.
This needs to be done now, so the consequences of a more reasoned conservative media have time to filter into the mainstream. Candidates will then be forced to deal with facts and evidence, and become more electable. Without fixing the rightwing media, those of us on the left will enjoy decades of continuing Republican marginalisation.
Dr Todd Huffman
• If President Obama really is to pursue a progressive second-term agenda (Editorial, 7 November), it must include a sea change on foreign policy and Guantánamo Bay. Most urgently, the president needs to prevent further loss of civilian life through the use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen. In the Middle East and North Africa, the US must also stop playing geopolitics, especially in the way it favours Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with arms deals and holds its tongue over their flagrant human rights abuses.
On Guantánamo, an entire rethink is needed. The disastrous attempt to bypass international law begun under President Bush must be abandoned. All detainees should be charged and brought before federal civilian courts on the US mainland, or safely released. The world is crying out for a truly progressive US president.
Director, Amnesty International UK
• The proponents of an elected House of Lords in the UK should take note of the impasse in the US Congress since 2010 and consider whether that would be the likely outcome of strengthening the second house here. Surely the time has come to sweep away the upper house, and to strengthen the Commons, with more MPs and greater powers to properly scrutinise and consider legislation. Outside Westminster, no part of our democracy in the UK finds the need for a “second revising chamber”.
• Has there been any progress in the last four years? Yes, undoubtedly. In neither your excellent newspaper, nor in that of any of your competitors, have I seen any reference to who designed Michelle Obama’s election-night dress.
Rottingdean, East Sussex
The US has used drones in hundreds of attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen – but which countries have UAVs and how many? Over 800 detailed here
• Interactive map of drone attacks in Pakistan
• Get the data
• Data journalism and data visualisations from the Guardian
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the new face of warfare for the US and many of the world’s biggest defence spenders. But where are they based around the world?
Yesterday we published a complete database of reported drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, as a senior diplomat criticised their use. But it may be too late. Drones are everywhere.
Data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which it has allowed us to re-publish here on the Datablog, identifies 56 different types of UAVs used in 11 different countries. Where it can calculate actual stocks, this covers 807 drones in active service around the world – and this is a huge underestimate: number data is not available for China, Turkey and Russia.
The US is the most open about its drone stocks. The IISS data shows that is has at least 678 drones in service, of 18 different types. Some 14 of them are identified as ‘heavy’, and includes UAVs such as the MQ-1B Predator, of which it has over 100.
As for the UK, the army has unknown stocks of the Hermes 450 and
Watchkeeper drones, while the RAF has at least 10 MQ-9 Reaper heavy drones.
The full data is below. What can you do with it?
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Home secretary Theresa May briefs MPs on changes that may disqualify non-EU partners from UK family visas
British citizens with foreign-born partners are to be given the choice of indefinite “exile” in countries including Yemen and Syria or face the breakup of their families if they want to remain in the UK, under radical immigration changes to be announced next week, MPs have been told.
The home secretary, Theresa May, is expected to confirm that she will introduce a new minimum income requirement for a British “sponsor” without children of up to £25,700 a year, and a stringent English speaking test for foreign-born husbands, wives or partners of UK citizens applying to come to live in Britain on a family visa.
Immigration welfare campaigners say that the move will exclude two-thirds of British people – those who have a minimum gross income of under £25,700 a year – from living in the UK as a couple if they marry a non-EU national. They estimate that between 45% and 60% of the 53,000 family visas currently issued each year could fall foul of the new rules.
Ministers have also been considering extending the probationary period for overseas spouses and partners of British citizens from two to five years and introducing an “attachment test” to show that the “combined attachment” of the couple is greater to Britain than any other country.
The changes are to be introduced alongside new immigration rules, making clear that an illegal migrant or a convicted foreign national facing deportation who has established a family life in Britain will only be blocked by the courts from being removed, under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, in rare and exceptional cases. Instead they, too, will face a choice between separating from their British-based spouse or partner or going to live with their partner as a family overseas.
The moves to restrict the family route for migrants coming to Britain form part of the home secretary’s drive to reduce net migration from 250,000 to “tens of thousands” by the next general election.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has sent MPs a dossier of 13 detailed cases of families who would face serious consequences under the proposals, “to provide a snapshot of the reality of the lives of ordinary British citizens and settled people who want their husbands, wives, civil partners and in some cases children to join them in the UK”.
It includes the case of Anna, a British woman who is pregnant with twins, earning £31,000 a year, who may have to give up her home, job, flat and friends in the UK and move to Yemen to live with her husband, Ahmed, at a time when the Foreign Office has advised British nationals not to travel there. The fact that Anna is expecting twins means the minimum income maintenance requirement in her case will be set in a range from £24,800-£46,260, rather than at the childless couple rate of £25,700.
It also highlights the case of Emma , a British graduate who works, and is due to complete a journalism course this year, who may also have to give up her flat, family and friends in Britain, and travel to Syria where her Palestinian husband was born.
The JCWI says that the dossier shows how the ordinary circumstances of life, such as pregnancy, accidents at work, disability, low pay, poor currency exchange rates and nationality laws in foreign countries could penalise people if the proposals make it into Britain’s immigration rules.
The dossier also highlights how an extension of the probationary period for those granted family visas could trap more women in violent marriages and suffering domestic abuse in silence because of the fear of being deported if they complain.
“When, if ever, is it acceptable for British citizens to be placed in a position where they are effectively indefinitely exiled from their own country on account of choosing to have a relationship with a non-European Economic Area national?” asks the JCWI pamphlet, United by Love/Divided by Law?
When the home secretary published her proposals in May she said that it was obvious that British citizens and those settled here should be able to marry or enter into a civil partnership with whomever they choose: “But if they want to establish their family life in the UK, rather than overseas, then their spouse or partner must have a genuine attachment to the UK, be able to speak English, and integrate into our society, and they must not be a burden on the taxpayer. Families should be able to manage their own lives. If a British citizen or a person settled here cannot support their foreign spouse or partner they cannot expect the taxpayer to do it for them.”
Media reports of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are becoming almost a daily occurrence (Editorial, 6 June). By stark contrast, drone strikes by British and US forces in Afghanistan are almost invisible. Given that the US has more than 10 times the number of armed drones operating in Afghanistan – and that we know there have been more than 250 British drone strikes there – it is likely that overall there have been more than 2,000 drone strikes in the country. While under international law the launching of air strikes in Afghanistan is considered differently from those launched in Pakistan and Yemen, civilians in Afghanistan must still be protected, particularly in a situation where it is hard to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.
There are many serious questions about British drone strikes in Afghanistan, ranging from specific issues in relation to targeted killing, to the wider issue of whether unmanned drones make armed attacks more likely. The Ministry of Defence’s policy of refusing to release details on the growing number of British drone strikes may stifle scrutiny and debate but – as these remote strikes are doing long-term damage to global security and increasing the threat of terrorism – its silence may, in the long term, be putting British lives in danger.
Drone Wars UK
• It is utterly depressing and shocking to read about the new deadly forms of warfare being developed and the use of drones to assassinate those on a “kill list” personally drawn up and approved by Barack Obama. It’s all very scary, not least for the people caught up in these deadly, immoral and illegal strikes. We know the American base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire will be involved in the operation of these weapons. Obama should not have received the Nobel prize for peace. It is now essential and long overdue to very publicly take it away.
Joint co-ordinator, Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases
With nearly 500,000 people displaced, aid agencies warn that Yemen’s instability will worsen unless donors increase funding
Yemen is facing a food crisis of “catastrophic proportions”, with almost half the population going hungry and a third of children in some areas severely malnourished, aid agencies have warned.
A coalition of seven humanitarian organisations – Care International, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Mercy Corps, Merlin, Oxfam and Save the Children – is urging the international community to step up aid before Yemen slides further into poverty and political instability.
The Middle Eastern country’s already precarious state was highlighted on Monday when a suicide bomber attacked a military parade, killing more than 90 people and wounding at least 220. The bombing, one of the deadliest in recent years, was a setback in Yemen’s battle against al-Qaida-affiliated Islamists and has heightened concerns over a country in the frontline of the US global war on militants.
The aid agencies – which point out that the UN’s humanitarian appeal has received only 43% of the funding it needs – are urging delegates at Wednesday’sinternational Friends of Yemen conference to do more to tackle the food crisis.
The agencies say hunger in Yemen has doubled since 2009 and was exacerbated by last year’s political upheaval, which saw the dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh ousted from power after 33 years and replaced by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Penny Lawrence, Oxfam’s international director, said that although donors were concentrating on politics and security, they had to focus on more basic and pressing issues. “Yemeni families are at the brink and have exhausted their ways of coping with the crisis,” she said.
“Failure to respond adequately to the humanitarian needs now will put more lives at risk, further entrench poverty and could undermine political transition in the country.”
Her fears were echoed by Jerry Farrell, Save the Children’s director in Yemen. “Political instability, conflict and high prices have left families across the country going hungry,” he said. “We know that children always suffer the most when food is in short supply, and unless urgent humanitarian action is taken, Yemen will be plunged into a hunger crisis of catastrophic proportions.”
Fighting in the north and south of the country has forced nearly 95,000 people to leave their homes over the last two months, bringing the total number of those displaced in the country to close to half a million.
UN estimates, meanwhile, put the number of children facing life-threatening levels of malnutrition at 267,000. Oxfam has also reported an increase in early marriage as families marry off their daughters young in order to ease the burden of the crisis.
Although the UN has so far asked for $447m [£283m] of aid, it is thought it will increase its appeal substantially next month as the situation in Yemen worsens.
“The hungry of Yemen cannot wait,” said Hashem Awnallah, country director of Islamic Relief Yemen. “Donors need to heed the lessons of the Horn of Africa and respond now before the crisis further deepens.”
Britain, which will co-chair the Friends of Yemen conference in Riyadh, has promised £28m of aid to the country, but warned that Monday’s suicide bombing underlined the severity of the situation in Yemen.
The international development minister, Alan Duncan, said the aid – which will be delivered through agencies – would provide both immediate help and a “foundation for progress”.But Duncan, who will be among those at the meeting, said that Yemen was still in a very fragile state. “The new government of Yemen has been in place for a matter of months and has already taken important steps,” he said. “But yesterday’s terrible suicide bombing reminds us that the country still faces huge challenges.
“If progress is to be maintained then the international community must back the government. Without that support, the alternative is a slide towards state failure and an increased threat from international terrorism.”
Dfid officials said the aid could mean emergency food for up to a quarter of a million people as well as safe water sources, shelter and healthcare for those fleeing the violence.
It could also help fund education for 60,000 children in conflict zones and pay for goods and labour to support 35,000 adults.
Speaking at the Nato summit in Chicago on Monday, Barack Obama also expressed concern over extremist activity in Yemen and pledged more aid to counter it.
“That’s important for US safety,” he said. “It’s also important for the stability of Yemen and the region.”
Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, telephoned Hadi to offer US help in the investigation into Monday’s bombing, adding that it “would stand by Yemen’s side at this difficult time”.
Washington is increasing its support for Hadi’s government but the US military’s drone attacks targeting militants in Yemen have frequently killed civilians and are deeply resented by Yemenis, even the many who abhor al-Qaida.
Work to stop leak on Elgin platform, which involved pumping heavy mud into well, has been a success, says Total
The near two month crisis around a gas well on the Elgin field in the North Sea appeared to have been averted on Wednesday with French operator, Total, saying it had succeeded in plugging the leak.
Shares in the company rose more than 2% on the announcement that no more methane was being released into the environment and the company can soon put a halt to its relief operations which have been costing it $3m a day.
“A major turning point has been achieved,” said Yves-Louis Darricarrere, Total’s head of exploration and production, but the company said it was too soon to say when gas and condensate production could resume.
The Elgin platform used to pump about 3% of Britain’s total gas output from nearly four miles below the seabed, and the incident comes on top of production problems elsewhere.
Safety issues in Yemen and a gas leak in Nigeria have been putting a brake on the company’s target of increasing its global output by 2.5% through to 2015.
The oil world is very nervous of offshore incidents after BP’s Macondo oil well spill in the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 2010. That, very different from the Total gas leak, is expected to cost the company around $30bn in compensation and other claims.
Christophe de Margerie, Total’s chief executive, has previously said the Elgin leak could cost the company slightly more than $300m in lost production in a worst case scenario where production did not restart before the end of the year.
There was relief in the City among investors. “Obviously good news for the group. Final costs are now awaited, but no bad surprises expected,” said analysts at Alphavalue in a research note. Shares in Total had lost 16% of their value since the gas leak began in late March.
Bomber involved in plot to attack US-bound jet was working as an informer with Saudi intelligence and the CIA, it has emerged
A would-be “underwear bomber” involved in a plot to attack a US-based jet was in fact working as an undercover informer with Saudi intelligence and the CIA, it has emerged.
The revelation is the latest twist in an increasingly bizarre story about the disruption of an apparent attempt by al-Qaida to strike at a high-profile American target using a sophisticated device hidden in the clothing of an attacker.
The plot, which the White House said on Monday had involved the seizing of an underwear bomb by authorities in the Middle East sometime in the last 10 days, had caused alarm throughout the US.
It has also been linked to a suspected US drone strike in Yemen where two Yemeni members of al-Qaida were killed by a missile attack on their car on Sunday, one of them a senior militant, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso.
But the news that the individual at the heart of the bomb plot was in fact an informer for US intelligence is likely to raise just as many questions as it answers.
Citing US and Yemeni officials, Associated Press reported that the unnamed informant was working under cover for the Saudis and the CIA when he was given the bomb, which was of a new non-metallic type aimed at getting past airport security.
The informant then turned the device over to his handlers and has left Yemen, the officials told the news agency. The LA Times, which first broke the news that the plot had been a “sting operation”, said that the bomb plan had also provided the intelligence leads that allowed the strike on Quso.
Earlier John Brennan, Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser and a former CIA official, told ABC’s Good Morning America that authorities are “confident that neither the device nor the intended user of this device pose a threat to us”.
US officials have said the plot was detected in its early stages and that no American airliner was ever at risk.
The FBI is conducting forensic tests on the bomb as a first step towards discovering whether it would have cleared existing airport scanning systems. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator for California who heads the Senate intelligence committee, gave an early hint when she said that she had been briefed about the device which she called “undetectable”.
But AP quoted an unnamed US official as saying current detection methods probably would have spotted the shape of the explosive in the latest device.
Just how major an escalation in threat is posed by the bomb remains unclear. Security sources have told news agencies that it was a step up in levels of sophistication from the original underwear bomb that was used in a failed attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
The device used a more refined detonation system, and Brennan said “it was a threat from a standpoint of the design”.
When it comes to who made the device the focus is on an al-Qaida’s offshoot, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Matthew Levitt, a counter-terrorism expert at the Washington Institute, said that the interception of the plot amounted to a significant achievement for US security agencies.
He said: “The FBI is holding the device, which suggests that this was done by having boots on the ground. This was a sophisticated operation that shows we are making in-roads in serious places.”
Levitt, who was involved as a senior analyst in the FBI’s investigation into 9/11, said that it was natural to be sceptical in a presidential election year about security announcements. “But this was not political, it didn’t come from the White House and my sense was that it was a really unique success,” he said.
Levitt said that the spotlight would now be even more intense on Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, AQAP’s assumed bomb-making chief, who is thought to be hiding out in Yemen.
Asiri is believed to have been the creator of the Detroit underwear bomb as well as explosives that were packed into printer cartridges bound for Chicago in 2010.