European MPs want Google break up

Google’s business is under close scrutiny at the European Commission


The European Parliament has voted in favour of breaking Google up, as a solution to complaints that it favours is own services in search results.

Politicians have no power to enforce a break-up, but the landmark vote sends a clear message to European regulators to get tough on the net giant.

US politicians and trade bodies have voiced their dismay at the vote.

The ultimate decision will rest with EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

She has inherited the anti-competitive case lodged by Google’s rivals in 2010.

Google has around 90% market share for search in Europe and rivals asked the commission to investigate four areas:

Predecessor Joaquin Almunia tried and failed to settle the case. A series of concessions made by Google were rejected, leading Mr Almunia to suggest that the only option was a fine. This could be up to $5bn.

The Commission has never before ordered the break up of any company, and many believe it is unlikely to do so now.

But politicians are desperate to find a solution to the long running anti-competitive dispute with Google

The motion brought by Andreas Schwab, a German Christian Democrat, and Spanish liberal Ramon Tremosa stated that the best way to resolve the row with the net giant was to separate search engines from other commercial services thereby ensuring a level playing field for rivals in Europe

Cameron on attack over English votes

David Cameron: Scottish devolution would go ahead regardless of the issue of English votes for English laws


David Cameron has gone on the attack over ‘English votes for English laws’ during heated exchanges in parliament.

The PM appeared before the liaison committee of senior MPs, with questions focusing on devolution within the UK after the Scottish referendum.

Mr Cameron said he was the only party leader to offer the people of England more rights over legislation.

He also defended the Barnett formula  used to decide spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

All the main parties are committed to devolving further powers to Scotland but there is disagreement over the question of voting reform at Westminster

Mr Cameron wants further Scottish devolution to be linked to changes at Westminster to bring in English votes for English laws

Questioned by the Labour MP Clive Betts over devolution to local councils, Mr Cameron went on the attack, more heated in his delivery than is usual in the committee

I seem to be the only party leader who is prepared to say to the people of England, you should have… the same rights over legislation than are being given to Scotland and Wales he said.

He told Mr Betts Your party is very happy to have discussions about devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but somehow, when it comes to England, the Labour Party seems completely unwilling to have any discussion about English votes for English laws

Mr Cameron was rebuked by the committee chairman, Sir Alan Beith, who told him “his remarks belonged in a different venue”.

The PM promised further devolution for Scotland would go ahead regardless of the progress over the so-called English question.

However, he gave this assurance for after the general election: “If you get me as prime minister, you get both.”

The Conservatives argue that it is unfair that Scottish MPs should help decide how things such as schools and the health service are run in England when English MPs have no such say over how they are run in Scotland.

Labour opposes the Tory plans, claiming they would create two classes of MPs. Instead Labour wants to see more devolution within England to regions and cities.

Labour has also accused the Conservatives of playing politics with the UK’s constitution.

The Lib Dems favour more devolution within England and a tweak to the Commons system to ensure that England’s MPs have more of a say than other MPs over legislation that only covers England

The Scottish National Party has warned that the Scottish people would ensure Westminster parties would pay a heavy, heavy electoral price if the promise, made during the referendum campaign, of more powers to Scotland was not delivered

UKIP supports ‘English votes for English laws’ and has called for a new constitutional settlement for the UK

Mr Cameron was also asked about the controversial Barnett formula which decides levels of spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

He faces a Commons rebellion over the issue later on Thursday. Many Conservative MPs support a motion to review the formula, which they say is unfair to taxpayers in England

Mr Cameron told the committee reform of the Barnett formula was “not on the horizon”.

He said that as more tax powers were devolved to Scotland and Wales the formula’s importance would decline.

Mr Cameron told the committee there was no better alternative: “If you don’t have the Barnett formula, you would have to have another formula.”

Hunt for IS killers in Kassig video

Maxime Hauchard went to Syria in August 2013, French authorities believe


Western intelligence officials are trying to identify Islamic State (IS) militants seen in the video that shows the beheading of US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig and 18 Syrian prisoners.

Abdul Rahman Kassig is being mourned as a fallen hero by Syria’s opposition, the BBC’s Frank Gardner reports

The IS video shows a masked man standing over a severed head, which the White House confirmed was Mr Kassig’s.

He was captured by IS, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, in October 2013 while travelling to Deir Ezzour in eastern Syria.

His parents, Ed and Paula, from Indiana, said in a statement they were heartbroken by his death

We are incredibly proud of our son for living his life according to his humanitarian calling, they said. We will work every day to keep his legacy alive as best we can

US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington leaders assume that the world will be too intimidated to oppose them. But let us be clear: We are not intimidated

The latest IS video also shows the beheading of 18 Syrian captives, who are identified as army officers and pilots. They are said to have been taken from Tabqa air base last August. They are mostly from the Alawite religious sect and come from Latakia and Tartous, according to UK based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

Unlike previous videos released by IS, the latest shows the faces of many of the militants and specifies its location – Dabiq in Syria’s Aleppo province.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins identified Maxime Hauchard as appearing in the video

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said earlier that Hauchard, who was born in 1992 and was originally from the Eure region, “had gone to Syria in August 2013 after a stay in Mauritania in 2012

Hauchard told French TV station BFM via Skype in July that he was in Raqqa in Syria and had joined IS, adding: “The personal objective of everyone here is shahid (martyrdom). That is the greatest reward

Hauchard’s uncle told French TV on Monday I can’t believe it was he who cut anyone’s head off. It’s not possible. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was a calm and happy little boy

Mr Molins said another Frenchman could be among the militants but that it had not yet been confirmed

In Britain, Muthana’s father, Ahmed, initially said it was his son, but then said the images were blurry and he was not sure

He now says that although he has not seen the footage, he is able to confirm it is not his son from images he has seen

Mr Muthana told the BBC It doesn’t look like him, much difference. This one’s got a big nose, my one has a flat nose

Nasser Muthana appeared in an IS video in June that was aimed at recruitment

The man in question stands to the right of another man, who is suspected to be British militant nicknamed “Jihadi John”. This man is dressed in black with a balaclava, while the rest of the militants wear army fatigues

Jihadi John has been shown in previous IS videos of the beheadings of the other Western hostages: Britons Alan Henning and David Haines, and US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff

Abdul-Rahman Kassig

Former soldier and idealist

Kassig’s emotional letters home

Obama sent secret letter to Iran

The White House has not commented directly on the reported letter


(bursa eskort) — US President Barack Obama is said to have written a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader describing a shared interest in fighting Islamic State

The letter, reported by the Wall Street Journal, also urges Ayatollah Ali Khamenei toward a nuclear agreement

The US president stresses any co-operation on fighting IS is contingent on Iran reaching such an agreement by a 24 November diplomatic deadline

The White House has declined to comment on Mr Obama’s private correspondence

But Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said it was outrageous that the president would approach Iran, given its support for the Syrian government and Shia groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah

The administration needs to understand that this Iranian regime cares more about trying to weaken America and push us out of the Middle East than cooperating with us they said in a joint statement

The consequences of this ill-conceived bargain would destroy the Syrians’ last, best chance to live in freedom from the brutal Assad regime

The US has ruled out inviting Iran to join an international coalition it has assembled against IS, but has said Iran has a role to play in the fight against IS.

Islamic State, a Sunni jihadist group, poses a threat to Shia-majority Iran and has taken over large parts of Iran’s Shia dominated ally Iraq

The group’s militants currently control large areas of Iraq and Syria and have carried out mass killings across the region

But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out co-operating with the US against IS, accusing Washington of having created the jihadist group as a tool against Iran

The letter, sent last month, is at least the fourth time Mr Obama has written to the Iranian leader since taking office in 2009 and underscores his view that Iran is important in an emerging campaign against IS

Analysis, Kim Ghattas, BBC News

America’s Arab allies are bound to be dismayed by news of the letter. Foreign diplomats said US administration officials they spoke to did not deny its existence

And key Gulf countries who are part of the current military coalition against IS were not informed about the letter in advance, which diplomats said could undermine trust between US and its partners at a crucial moment

When the US started secret negotiations with Iran in 2012, it did not inform countries like Saudi Arabia or Israel. They were outraged when news surfaced of the secret channel. This letter will be seen as another example of Mr Obama acting with little regard for his allies as he doggedly pursues a deal with Iran

American officials will argue they are doing what’s best in America’s national security interest

Officials with the Obama administration have recently talked down the chances of a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, rating it at only 50-50, according to the Wall Street Journal.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to begin negotiations on the issue with Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif this weekend in Oman.

World powers suspect Iran of trying to make a nuclear bomb, a claim it denies

An interim deal agreed late last year gave Iran some relief from sanctions in return for curbs on nuclear activity

But talks later stalled on the extent of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed and on the timetable for sanctions to be lifted

On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment directly on the secret letter

I can tell you that the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged he said in response to questions

Also on Thursday, Republican speaker of the House John Boehner said he did not trust Iran’s leaders and said they should not be brought into the fight against IS

Stars attend funeral of Jack Bruce

Jack Bruce was said to be one of the best bass guitarists in rock history


(bursa eskort) — Guests including Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker have paid a farewell in song to their former Cream bandmate Jack Bruce at his funeral.

The Scottish-born bass player and singer died last month as a result of liver disease.

Clapton and Baker were among a number of musicians who joined Bruce’s family at Golders Green Crematorium in north London.

Thy sang songs including Morning Has Broken and Strawberry Fields Forever.

The order of service described Bruce, who was 71 when he died, as a “beloved husband, father, granddad and all round legend”.

His friend and Cream lyricist Pete Brown shared reminiscences with guests, which also included contributions from Bruce’s son Malcolm, daughters Natasha and Kyla, a poem written by another son Corin and a tribute from his wife Margrit.

Bruce, who was originally from Bishopbriggs near Glasgow, was said to have been one of the best bass players in the history of rock music.

He was most famous for his role alongside Baker and Clapton in Cream. The 1960s supergroup created enduring tracks such as White Room, Sunshine Of Your Love, I Feel Free and Badge.

The trio reformed for a series of shows in 2005, which included dates at the Royal Albert Hall.

Also attending the service were the Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, Procol Harum star Gary Brooker, US guitarist Vernon Reid and the musician and composer Nitin Sawhney

The blind man leading the blind orchestra

Baluji Shrivastav (front, right) leading the Inner Vision Orchestra


(escort 16) — Baluji Shrivastav is one of the music world’s most in-demand sitar players. Blind since the age of four, he’s now leading an ensemble of blind musicians.

Baluji Shrivastav has played on Top of the Pops five times, accompanied Stevie Wonder in Hyde Park and, in 2012, performed with Coldplay at the Paralympics closing ceremony. You can hear his sitar clearly in Massive Attack’s famous song Teardrop, and he has recorded with many other acts, including Annie Lennox, Oasis and Kaiser Chiefs.

In 2010 Baluji (known by his first name alone) set up the Inner Vision Orchestra, – specifically to give paid work to fellow blind musicians, and partly because he wanted to address some of the confidence problems suffered by others in his position. They perform regularly together and now, he says, members are getting further professional jobs as solo musicians.

One of Baluji’s aims was to show the world that the ensemble can play music better than many sighted people – he says you have to be very good to get where his orchestra has got to.

Inner Vision members can play in sync successfully without relying on eye contact or even a conductor he says. It’s a skill which impresses sighted musicians, for whom a visual connection is crucial to get their cues. As we have been practising more and more together, our understanding [of one another] is developing further and further. They remember the order of play and if in doubt Baluji leads. Rather than rely on a conductor, one musician starts each piece and the rest follow his or her tempo. I don’t say anything about what instruments there are or what a musician is going to play. They have to tell their own story

Baluji’s story is itself extraordinary. Born with sight in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, he was diagnosed with glaucoma at eight months old. At the time, a neighbour told his mother she had been able to cure her own eight children of the same eye condition with her homemade opium-based remedy, and wanted to try it on Baluji.

She put the medicine inside my eyelid and bandaged my eyes for three days, he says. “But when the bandage was taken off, there was a lump in it. My mother asked what the lump in the bandage was, and the neighbour told her ‘it’s dirt, throw it away’.” But the lump was in fact Baluji’s eye and with the other one also damaged, he went blind soon afterwards.

Baluji says his mother realised he was a “born musician” when he started singing at 18 months old. She taught him to play the harmonium, an organ-like wind-powered keyboard used in Indian music.

Baluji was educated at the Ajmer Blind School for boys 300 miles away in Rajasthan. His musical ability quickly shone through – but most of the instruments at the school were made from pumpkin and were incredibly delicate, so children were only allowed to play them in moderation. Baluji was desperate to play more and one day he happened upon a sitar. Despite protestations from his teacher that the instrument was too big for such a small boy of eight, he started to play and immediately picked out a number of tunes. He fell in love, and never looked back

I see lots of blind people who don’t have any confidence

By the age of 10, Baluji was conducting his first non-sighted orchestra at his school, featuring more than 80 musicians. He had to find a way of doing it in a non-visual way and hit on the idea of using a xylophone where each note he played conveyed a pre-arranged instruction.

The emerging virtuoso went on to gain two music-related degrees but when his family lost their lettings business he put his work on hold to help them. So they could continue to earn a living, he taught them to weave cane chairs, a skill he had learned at the blind school. In his 20s, Baluji did a masters degree in sitar before moving to France and then later to the UK.

While he says the attitude to blindness in Asia is not good, it was the negativity from his family and community that spurred him on to, in his words, show them that being blind is not a curse but a boon”. He believes he wouldn’t have fulfilled his musical potential, pushed himself forward or gained such positive attention if he hadn’t lost his sight.

In contrast to the positive spirit he forged in northern India, Baluji is concerned by the attitude of some blind people in the UK. “I see lots of blind people here who don’t have any confidence,” he says. Though many might disagree with his assessment, he thinks they may have become a bit lazy because they receive “too many benefits and comforts

A recent tour has taken the Inner Vision orchestra to small venues all over England by minibus and public transport. This can present logistical challenges, says Baluji says. The musicians have had problems with taxi drivers refusing to take their guide dogs, and one dog’s tail got caught in a taxi door when it closed

But assistance is necessary for Inner Vision members to be able to work optimally and each person has different needs. “Some of our musicians were born blind but some went blind at a later age and need more help says Baluji. We need volunteers to take care of them and to look after guide dogs while their owners are on stage performing

The Inner Vision Orchestra has just finished a UK tour and recently reached their £10,000 target on a crowd-funding website to make a film about their work. Watch the trailer on YouTube.

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