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The America I give thanks for (as I depart) – BBC News

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USA flag with NYC skyline behind

Image source, Getty Images

Across America in a few hours’ time, turkeys will be going into ovens, millions will be hurrying from regional airports to get to see loved ones, roads will likely be jammed.

And people will be preparing to gorge themselves on that egregious crime against cooking, sweet potato casserole and marshmallow. I mean sweet potato casserole – yum. Marshmallow – why not. But blended together in one dish? Ewww.

That said, Thanksgiving is the loveliest of occasions. It is the midpoint between the ghastly excess of Halloween and the naked commercialism of some aspects of Christmas. And it is not about feverishly unwrapping presents. It is about families and friends coming together and giving thanks.

My most vivid – and painful – Thanksgiving was in 2017.

We were across the road at our friend Jeff’s in Georgetown. A few months earlier his wife, who was 39, had died of a very aggressive cancer. But round the table we went, taking it in turns to say what we gave thanks for – including his kids – Eleanor who was then 10, and Charlie who was eight. They spoke of the support of friends and family and how this had been of comfort to them in this unspeakably horrid year.

Thanksgiving meal

Image source, Getty Images

Strangely perhaps, it was an occasion that underlined to me what is great about America – the positivity, the optimism, the hope – and yes, resilience too.

This will be my eighth and final Thanksgiving before I move back to the UK, and the thing that has struck me about living here is the courtesy, respect and old-fashioned politeness.

When I tell Americans there are those in Britain who could learn from this, they seem startled. Surely, they ask, Britain – with its royal family – is the epitome of etiquette and courtliness. I ask if they’ve ever tried to get on the Victoria Line at Oxford Circus in the rush hour.

But there will be a lot of families who won’t be gathering this year.

A friend from Ohio – the kindest, most gentle soul – says his family won’t be getting together because of toxic divisions that have come to the fore in the past few years. He works in the media and is sick of having his family telling him he works for fake news. It has been a growing and depressing phenomenon in America, where the list of no-go topics for the dinner table is now so extensive, better to call the whole thing off.

There have always been divisions in the US, some of them going back to America’s original sin, slavery. And recent court cases have underlined the profound feeling of grievance that the legal system doesn’t work equally for black and white defendants.

Jon Sopel

But the list seems to grow daily.

Abortion, guns, capital punishment – those divisive issues go back decades. But today we can add to that taking a knee, cancel culture, LGBTQ rights, critical race theory, defund the police (was ever a slogan better designed to alienate a lot of people?).

And of course the casus belli for the attempted insurrection on January 6th, the “stolen election” – which of course wasn’t stolen.

These fissures became full-scale tears during the Trump presidency, when America was either passionately pro the 45th commander in chief, or downright hostile. Few were indifferent. And so crazy things have become a political dividing line.

In the South there were restaurants and bars that banned people from entering if they WERE wearing a mask. Just think about that. In the land of the free, during a pandemic, some would deny you the choice of wearing a face covering for your and others’ safety, because PPE had become political.

There was a recent governor’s election in Virginia, where the Republican pulled off a hugely impressive victory. But the Democratic candidate had a 14-point lead – among those who’d been vaccinated. That’s astonishing. Being jabbed in the US is now an indicator of likely voting behaviour.

In September I was in New York for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a scarring moment for the US back in 2001, but an event that united the country.

George W Bush rallies the nation after 9/11

Image source, Getty Images

That was in those innocent pre-social media days.

Sure, there were the odd conspiracy theories – it was a Zionist plot (for reasons I’ve never been able to quite fathom), but they didn’t have the highly inflammable propellant of algorithms back then, nor bad actors – state and non-state – who could sow confusion and chaos with such apparent ease. I really do wonder what it would take to unite this nation today.

Joe Biden came to power promising to lower the political temperature and to bind the wounds of a fractious nation, but there’s no evidence that he’s succeeding in that.

Inflation is rising, the pull-out from Afghanistan was catastrophic, Covid has not gone away, there are supply chain issues that threaten Christmas – and his approval ratings are diving, despite getting his massive programme of infrastructure improvements through Congress.

Vermont in autumn

Image source, Getty Images

So this Thanksgiving, there will be the turkey and all the trimmings – but a lot of Americans feeling thankless, even when this beautiful, wealthy, creative, entrepreneurial country still offers so much opportunity.

This lunchtime I will give thanks for my time here, for the journalistic assignment of a lifetime, for the wonderful American friends I’ve met – and will keep.

I will also give thanks for the weather. America has far more bright, clear days than Britain. Sunlight is the norm. But I will keep to myself my dread – of returning and listening to those soul-sapping weather forecasts: “It will be overcast with thick cloud and drizzle…”

Happy Thanksgiving

Post script: In sitting down to write this, I have been thinking about all the things I will miss about the US, and all the things I won’t:

What I’ll miss (not in any order)

Sunshine

National parks and the great outdoors

Skiing in America – so much better organised

Fabulous geographical diversity

Weather reports – so much weather here

Paved cycle trails through stunning countryside

College sport – particularly March Madness basketball competition

Being able to watch all the Premier League football matches you can – even the 3pm kick offs (which you can’t in the UK)

The singing of the national anthem

Burgers and fries

Can do attitudes/innovation

Georgetown

Washington museums and memorials

The device on petrol pump nozzle where it automatically clicks off when tank is full, so you don’t need to keep hand on it (not significant I know)

Epic complexity of Washington politics

Friendliness and kindness

Work ethic

What I won’t miss

Guns – worst bit of my seven years has been going to all the mass shootings

Endless TV ads for prescription drugs promising miracles for first 20 seconds and warning of – in rare cases – catastrophic death in last 20 seconds

Endless political ads during election season that just make you want to live on a desert island

A terrible health system that only works if you have money

Hearing people in front of me at the pharmacy saying they can’t afford the drugs they’ve been prescribed

Seeming lack of interest in what happens in the rest of the world

Restaurants (this is a whole subsection)

– Food that is often too salty or too sweet

– You feel you have to tip 20% cos staff are so badly paid

– Ludicrous hierarchy where you can only talk to waiter/waitress allocated to your table, and not get service from anyone else

– Also why is the person who pours your water never able to take your food order

– Surf and turf – do one, but not the other

Being asked my opinion endlessly about Charles and Diana/William and Kate/Harry and Meghan – the royal family is an obsession

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Fraudsters of the world, come to London. And bring your dirty money – The Guardian

Fraudsters of the world, come to London. And bring your dirty money

Nick Cohen
Kleptocrats love this country, knowing full well they’ll be free from proper scrutiny
‘No one can say how many in the UK are living off immoral earnings’

There is no better representation of the decline of the English upper class into the global rich’s servant class than Ben Elliot. On the one hand, the co-chairman of the Tory party is now a rent collector, hauling in money for the Johnson administration from the Russian rich and native hedge fund bosses.

On the other, he is an actual servant: an upmarket flunkey, to be sure, praised by society magazines for his “puppyish schoolboy charm”, but a flunkey nonetheless. Elliot is a founder of the Quintessentially “concierge” service that gives the super-rich anything they want: luncheon on an iceberg; the Sydney Harbour bridge closed for a wedding proposal. There’s nothing Elliot won’t do for paying customers up to and including arranging a meeting with our future sovereign. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is Elliot’s aunt and it appears that no considerations of good form or good manners have prevented him monetising the connection. Not that the prince appears to mind. A Quintessentially advert interrupts a montage of shots of yachts and celebrities to quote his royal highness as saying he is “particularly grateful” to Quintessentially for organising a party he attended. Members of Elliot’s Quintessentially club donate to the Conservatives. The Conservatives gave Elliot £1.4m of taxpayers’ money in 2016 to “attract the right high-value individual investors to the UK through bespoke programmes”. If on arrival, those high-value individuals went on to show how valuable they were by hiring Quintessentially and donating to the Tories, the circle would be complete.

Upstairs has moved downstairs in the remains of the Tory day and a large segment of British capitalism is now employed as the best servants money can buy. The law, PR, City, estate agency and banking know that easy riches come from serving the large part of the world where it pays to forget Balzac’s warning that the secret of a great fortune no one can explain is invariably an undetected crime. For want of an agreed name I propose “Corruptistan” to cover Russia and the ex-Soviet states, the kleptocracies of Africa and the Middle East and probably soon China as the communist elite learns how to expatriate its wealth.

Given the secrecy of the financial system, the defunding of the police and regulatory authorities and the English libel law, no one can say how many in the UK are living off immoral earnings. But two statistics and one quotation give us a measure of the UK’s dependency culture. Graeme Biggar, of the National Economic Crime Centre, said a “disturbing proportion” of criminal money from the old Soviet Union is “laundered through UK corporate structures”. Companies House, meanwhile, has become a front organisation for organised crime. So welcoming is it to criminals that 335,000 of its listed companies do not reveal the name of their beneficial owners. And 4,000 of the names it appears to reveal turn out on close inspection to belong to children aged two or under.

Last month, Professor Sadiq Isah Radda, a Nigerian anti-corruption official, encapsulated the consequences of the UK’s tolerance of theft. An opponent of corruption in Nigeria, home to countless online scams? A joke figure, you might think. But Radda spoke with a seriousness no government minister can muster when he said the UK was “the most notorious safe haven for looted funds in the world today”. The corruption we facilitate destablised Nigeria and, he might have added, many other countries besides.

Last week, a handful of MPs asked why the Conservatives were so peculiarly soft on this particular crime. In 2017, they promised a law that would compel the foreign owners of UK property to reveal their identities. (The willingness to allow private and state criminals to launder their wealth anonymously through the prime London property market was Radda’s main charge against Boris Johnson.) Nothing has been heard of this bold “anti-corruption strategy” since.

Likewise, the government has said it wants to stop Companies House being a crime scene where anyone can set up a firm without proof of identity or the most cursory checks. Even the Conservative party appeared to agree that it should not be harder to apply for a passport than to set up a shell company. But once again nothing happened.As for the recommendations in the Russia report on money laundering, they vanished as soon as they were made.

The SNP’s Alison Thewliss asked: “I wonder who benefits from this delay. Is it the oligarchs and those to whom they donate?” Pat McFadden, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, asked Conservative MPs why they thought “their party has been such an attractive destination” for £2m in gifts from Russian donors.” Change must come soon or not at all. Britain has benefited so greatly from the wealth of the corrupt we may soon be at the stage where we cannot afford to clean ourselves up. So many people are making so much money, what was once outrageous has become normal. This to my mind is why the security services and the judges just shrug when oligarchs with links to hostile foreign powers use the intimidatory costs of England’s unreformed legal system to menace critics. No one likes hard questions about a nation’s guilty secrets, not even the men and women who are professionally obliged to ask them. Labour certainly believes that tolerance of fraud is now part of the government’s economic strategy and the Treasury wants to loosen what few protections exist to compensate the financial services industry for the Brexit debacle.

Cynical readers may not care as long as the UK can wallow in streams of hot money. They should recall how many times con artists have tried to fleece them. Online fraud is the crime you are most likely to suffer from, yet nowhere in the government’s online safety bill is there a word about fighting the fraudsters who flourish on social media platforms. Once the Tories started turning a blind eye, they found it impossible to stop.

You cannot profit from economic crimes committed abroad while enjoying the rule of law at home. The presence of the global plutocracy’s valets at the top of government and society shows the UK no longer even bothers to pretend that it can.

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Indonesia volcano: Dozens injured as residents flee huge ash cloud from Mt Semeru – BBC News

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One person has died and dozens are injured after a volcano erupted on Indonesia’s Java island, officials said on Saturday.

Residents were filmed fleeing a giant ash cloud from Mt Semeru.

Witnesses described nearby villages covered in debris, and thick smoke blotting out the Sun, leaving them in pitch darkness.

The deputy chief of Lumajang district put the number of injured at 41, saying they had suffered burns.

Indah Masdar called for helicopters to help rescue at least 10 people trapped in buildings.

“We’re in big distress,” she said. “It’s harrowing, their families are all crying.”

Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) later said it knew of 35 people being treated at local medical facilities.

Evacuation efforts have been hampered by choking smoke, a power blackout, and rainstorms during the eruption which turned the debris into mud.

Thoriqul Haq, a local official, told Reuters that a road and bridge from the area to the nearby city of Malang had been severed.

“This has been a very pressing, rapid condition since it erupted,” he said.

People ride a motorbike on a road covered with volcanic ash after Mt Semeru erupted, pictured in Sumberwuluh village in Lumajang regency, East Java province, on 4 December, 2021

Image source, Reuters

Several hundred people have been moved to shelters or left for safer areas, local broadcaster tvOne quoted him as saying.

The eruption took place at about 14:30 local time (07:30 GMT). Local authorities have set up a restricted zone within 5km (3 miles) from the crater.

Airlines have been warned of an ash cloud rising up to 15,000m (50,000 ft).

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Darwin, Australia said the ash appeared to have detached from the summit and was drifting south-west over the Indian Ocean.

The VAAC provides advice to the aviation industry about the location and movement of potentially hazardous volcanic ash.

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Campbell Biggs, a meteorologist at the VAAC, told the BBC that the 15,000m plume was higher than the cruising altitude for most aircraft and would cause most flights in the vicinity to divert their flight paths to avoid it.

Ash that solidifies on cooler parts of plane engines can disrupt airflow, which can lead to engines stalling or failing completely.

It also affects visibility for the pilots and can affect air quality in the cabin – making oxygen masks a necessity.

Mt Semeru was quite an active volcano that regularly spewed ash up to about 4,300m, so Saturday’s eruption was a “pretty significant increase in intensity”, Mr Biggs said.

The ash cloud should slowly dissipate, he said.

Mt Semeru rises 3,676m above sea level and previously erupted last December, forcing thousands of residents to seek shelter.

It is among Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes.

Indonesia is on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates meet, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity.

Videos shared by emergency officials and local media showed residents running away as a giant ash cloud rose behind them.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

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How have you been affected by the volcano erupting? Email [email protected].

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also get in touch in the following ways:

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world news

Indonesia volcano: Dozens injured as residents flee huge ash cloud from Mt Semeru – BBC News

This video can not be played

To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

One person has died and dozens are injured after a volcano erupted on Indonesia’s Java island, officials said on Saturday.

Residents were filmed fleeing a giant ash cloud from Mt Semeru.

Witnesses described nearby villages covered in debris, and thick smoke blotting out the Sun, leaving them in pitch darkness.

The deputy chief of Lumajang district put the number of injured at 41, saying they had suffered burns.

Indah Masdar called for helicopters to help rescue at least 10 people trapped in buildings.

“We’re in big distress,” she said. “It’s harrowing, their families are all crying.”

Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) later said it knew of 35 people being treated at local medical facilities.

Evacuation efforts have been hampered by choking smoke, a power blackout, and rainstorms during the eruption which turned the debris into mud.

Thoriqul Haq, a local official, told Reuters that a road and bridge from the area to the nearby city of Malang had been severed.

“This has been a very pressing, rapid condition since it erupted,” he said.

People ride a motorbike on a road covered with volcanic ash after Mt Semeru erupted, pictured in Sumberwuluh village in Lumajang regency, East Java province, on 4 December, 2021

Reuters

Several hundred people have been moved to shelters or left for safer areas, local broadcaster tvOne quoted him as saying.

The eruption took place at about 14:30 local time (07:30 GMT). Local authorities have set up a restricted zone within 5km (3 miles) from the crater.

Airlines have been warned of an ash cloud rising up to 15,000m (50,000 ft).

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Darwin, Australia said the ash appeared to have detached from the summit and was drifting south-west over the Indian Ocean.

The VAAC provides advice to the aviation industry about the location and movement of potentially hazardous volcanic ash.

1px transparent line

Campbell Biggs, a meteorologist at the VAAC, told the BBC that the 15,000m plume was higher than the cruising altitude for most aircraft and would cause most flights in the vicinity to divert their flight paths to avoid it.

Ash that solidifies on cooler parts of plane engines can disrupt airflow, which can lead to engines stalling or failing completely.

It also affects visibility for the pilots and can affect air quality in the cabin – making oxygen masks a necessity.

Mt Semeru was quite an active volcano that regularly spewed ash up to about 4,300m, so Saturday’s eruption was a “pretty significant increase in intensity”, Mr Biggs said.

The ash cloud should slowly dissipate, he said.

Mt Semeru rises 3,676m above sea level and previously erupted last December, forcing thousands of residents to seek shelter.

It is among Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes.

Indonesia is on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where continental plates meet, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity.

Videos shared by emergency officials and local media showed residents running away as a giant ash cloud rose behind them.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

1px transparent line

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

1px transparent line

Banner saying 'Get in touch'

How have you been affected by the volcano erupting? Email [email protected].

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also get in touch in the following ways:

If you are reading this page and can’t see the form you will need to visit the mobile version of the BBC website to submit your question or comment or you can email us at [email protected]. Please include your name, age and location with any submission.

Continue Reading

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