The air war in the skies above Syria

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The complexity of air war in Syria

(American viewpoint)

The U.S. pilot who shot down a Syrian regime attack jet earlier in June apparently  attempted a series of aerial maneuvers to warn the Syrian pilot away from attacking a U.S.-backed ground force.

It was only after the Syrian ignored the warnings, which also included dropping flares and efforts to talk over an open radio frequency, that the U.S. pilot decided to fire upon him said  in an interview from his headquarters in Qatar.

“He even watched him deliver weapons in that area before he made the decision,” Harrigian said. It was the first time a U.S. plane downed a Syrian jet and the first air-to-air kill by an American plane since 1999 during the Kosovo campaign.

The downing of the SU-22 by a Navy F/A-18 was one of a series of clashes in recent weeks as U.S. aircraft attempt to defend U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces from attacks by forces aligned with Bashar Assad’s regime.

The incidents have added to the complexity of the fight in Syria and placed new demands on coalition pilots flying in the skies over the country.

In recent weeks, U.S. warplanes have also shot down two Iranian-built drones operated by forces aligned with Assad. The Pentagon has said the aircraft were shot down as defensive measures to protect allies on the ground and their coalition advisers.

The recent series of clashes with Syrian-linked forces started June 8 when an Iranian-built drone was shot down by an American warplane after it attacked a U.S.-backed ground force that was patrolling with coalition advisers in southern Syria.

After that incident Harrigian met with pilots to discuss the shifting threat. The attack by the drone “changed the environment that we were operating in,” Harrigian said. “We had not seen that type of unprovoked attack previously.”

Harrigian said pilots generally are required to make critical decisions in the cockpit, since events move too quickly to seek guidance from headquarters thousands of miles away. They are also deeply aware of the strategic consequences of those decisions.

When you’re doing 400 knots and the adversary is coming at you at 400 knots there is no time for someone from the (operations center in Qatar) to tell you what to do,” Harrigian said. “They were going to be the ones that needed to make that self-defense decision.”

The attacks from forces aligned with Assad have raised concerns that the United States could get drawn into a broader conflict in Syria.

The Russians and Iranians are backing Assad. The U.S. says it is not at war with Russia or Syria and wants to focus on defeating the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which established a presence in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. officials have said the communications hotline between the U.S.-led coalition and Russian forces has remained open despite the heightened tensions.

The “deconfliction” hotline is designed to avoid mishaps between Russian, Syrian and coalition aircraft operating in Syrian airspace.

“It is working quite effectively,” Harrigian said.

 “We’re not here to fight the Syrians or the Iranians,” he said. “The intent is to try and de-escalate the situation and work towards ensuring we prosecute the defeat ISIS campaign.”

The communications are particularly critical as ISIS is pushed out of its territory and an array of forces are increasingly converging in a shrinking battlespace in Syria. Recently Russia fired cruise missiles on ISIS positions from ships and a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea.

After the shootdown of the Syrian plane, the Russian Defense Ministry said it would suspend the communications hotline and would begin tracking coalition aircraft on its ground-based radar system.

It is not clear if the Russians did begin actively tracking coalition aircraft, but the U.S. military in the past has repositioned aircraft to strengthen defenses against surface or air-to-air threats.

“We took it quite seriously and postured our forces appropriately,” Harrigian said. “It’s contested airspace out there and our job is to maintain air superiority over our folks to protect them.”

USA Today

Spanish Government Files Legal Bid to Halt Catalan Referendum

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s government has lodged a legal bid to stop Catalonia holding an independence referendum, asking the Constitutional Court to veto moves by the regional assembly, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Friday.

 

“There will not be any referendum on Oct. 1,” Rajoy told a news conference in Madrid after his weekly cabinet meeting.

 

The stand-off between Madrid and Barcelona is likely to intensify in the coming weeks as Catalonia’s separatist government moves ahead with the vote on breaking with the rest of Spain.

 

On Wednesday, Catalan lawmakers gave themselves powers to fast-track some laws and preparations for the referendum.

Rajoy said his government had filed a legal bid to block to those reforms with the Constitutional Court, which has previously ruled against secessionist challenges.

Catalonia, a wealthy, populous region in the northeast with its own language and distinct culture, has long harbored an independence movement which grew in intensity during an economic crisis. Pro-secession parties now control its assembly.

 

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Last week the Spanish government told Catalonia it would lose access to some public funds if it uses state money to organize the referendum, and vowed to increase controls on spending.

 

It is unclear exactly how the vote will happen if, as expected, Spain’s Constitutional Court keeps striking down attempts to organize it.

Civil servants such as police officers face a dilemma if the referendum does go ahead, as they risk sanctions from authorities in both Barcelona and in Madrid for not following their commands.

 

Rajoy, who has been criticized for his inflexible stance on the issue, said he was ready to talk with Barcelona.

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“I’ve always been prepared to have a dialogue over the best way to work with Catalonia’s institutions to everyone’s benefit,” Rajoy said. “I’ve always been prepared to do that and I am today.”

EU announces new emergency support for Greek refugee crisis

July 27, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country.

The €209 million-euro ($243 million) package includes a 151 million-euro program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens.

The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of 401 million euros. The rental project is in cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands.

A parallel scheme worth 57.6 million euros will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication.

“The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around 1.3 billion euros of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

Associated Press

Dunkirk (2017 Film Review)

Things We Can Tell You About Christopher Nolan’s Film (Without Totally Spoiling It)

© Warner BrosChristopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ is easily one of 2017’s most hotly-anticipated films and finallythe day of its UK cinema debut is almost here.

It stars Tom Hardy, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Sir Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy alongside a host of breakthrough actors – yes, including Harry Styles – and tells the true story of the World War II evacuation, which saw over 330,000 British soldiers rescued from the beaches in 1940.

So… is it any good? In short: Yes. But we’re not here to spoil it for you.

Before booking tickets, check out our list of 11 things we can reveal – without totally ruining the plot…

1. Harry Styles doesn’t stand out (in the best way possible). A lot of fuss has been made ahead of the former One Direction star’s feature film debut and we can confirm that he doesn’t disappoint. The cast can pretty much be divided into two groups – Hollywood heavyweights and relative newcomers – and of the latter, Harry has a sizeable amount of work to do. Film fans who were worried that it might be jarring to see the camera pan across to a 1D star among the soldiers on the beach can rest assured, Harry fits right in with his co-stars.

2. Where do you know Aneurin Barnard, who plays Gibson, from? The actor previously played Bobby in ITV’s miniseries about the life of Cilla Black.

© Provided by Huffington Post

3. The cast are hoping that the 12A rating will mean younger audiences can see the film and learn about the story of ‘Dunkirk’. Newcomer Barry Keoghan, who plays George, told HuffPost UK: “They’re [audiences] going to go away and maybe look up Dunkirk and and hopefully appreciate the bravery and courage, the legends.”

4. In his previous films ‘Inception’ and ‘Interstellar’, Nolan’s focus on time and space drove his stories forward. In ‘Dunkirk’, he uses non-chronological storytelling to heighten the intensity of the story being told.

5. A number of the characters have no names, including Cillian Murphy’s “Shivering Soldier”. With barely any dialogue and no moniker to go by, the audience have nothing to focus on but the obvious shellshock and trauma the soldier has suffered.

6. Without giving too much away, Sir Mark Rylance plays a civilian who sails to Dunkirk to help with the rescue effort and has every right to be proud of his character’s story. The actor previously told HuffPost UK that it “ was just an honour to be connected with those brave people who did these things” .

© Provided by Huffington Post

7. We’re glad it the film is no longer than two hours. Trust us when we say: It is intense. Nolan previously addressed Dunkirk’s relative brevity, stating: ”You can only sustain the degree of suspense and tension that we wanted from the film for so long before you exhaust the audience.” Obviously, he is correct. It’s harrowing, suspenseful and, at times, almost overwhelming – three hours would have been basically soul-destroying.

8. On that note: The soundtrack. Nolan has once again enlisted Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer to create the score, which at time becomes a bigger character than the soldiers on screen. Nolan recorded the sound of his own pocket watch ticking and sent it to the composer, who integrated it into the score.

© Provided by Huffington Post

9. To ensure historical accuracy, Nolan enlisted Joshua Levine, author of the book ‘Forgotten Voices Of Dunkirk’ to act as a consultant.

10. Fionn Whitehead’s star turn as British Army private Tommy sees him take the lead and it won’t be long before you see his name in lights again, thanks to ‘The Children Act’, in which he stars alongside Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci.

11. You need to see it at an IMAX cinema. We’re not usually sticklers for rules but in this case, trust us when we say Warner Bros are right to have every confidence that the 70mm screenings will pull in huge audiences.

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Fantastically exciting aerial scenes

 

‘Dunkirk’ is in UK cinemas from Friday 21 July.

Flydubai FZ981 flight deck co-pilot was fatigued, but under ‘tremendous pressure’ to go to work

Flydubai has  pushed the boundaries of sensible operating policy, a pilot purporting to work for the airline told RT. He says it encourages not reporting illness or fatigue, as was allegedly also the case with the crashed flight’s pilot Alejandro Alava.
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After the crash of low-cost carrier Flydubai’s flight FZ981 in Rostov-on-Don last year, a former pilot blew the whistle in an interview with RT on how the company allegedly pushes its employees to work hectic and long rosters, ignoring complaints that this puts lives in danger. That report has now been corroborated by a person who claims to be a current Flydubai pilot.

“If anything, since [the original whistleblower to RT] left, things got worse,” the pilot, who asked not to be named because he fears reprisals from his current employer, told RT. “The pressure applied to pilots by the management is tremendous.”

‘I’ll fly because we need the money’
The pilot, who says he has been with the company for years, said the payment scheme that Flydubai uses puts pressure on crew members not to call in sick. A pilot who chooses not to fly because of sickness or fatigue, which is a sensible thing to do, would lose a lot of money and may get into a really tight spot in Dubai, where the cost of living is very high, he explained.

“People fly when they are unfit because of sickness, sadly. And they also fly with the fatigue,” he said. “Everyone has a family, everyone has children and wife and mortgages they have to pay. So financial pressure is personal pressure.”

Pressure was allegedly in place when FZ981 First Officer Alejandro Alava decided that he would be on the ill-fated flight.

“I know for a fact from a close friend of [Alava’s] wife that he didn’t want to go to work because he was tired. But he said ‘I have to go to work because we are having twins, we are going to need the money,’” the pilot said.

Pilot fatigue may be a contributing factor in a serious incident. This is especially true for flights to destinations, where ground services are not up to high standards in place in North America or Europe, the claimed pilot noticed, adding that Flydubai flies to such destinations.

‘Punitive culture’

The company not only turns a blind eye when a pilot gets into the cockpit in not-too-good shape, it actually encourages non-reporting of minor incidents caused by fatigue and puts pressure on those who do, the pilot claimed.

“They say there is no punitive culture and if you report nothing would happen, but many pilots had been leaned on quite firmly, and pilots that had spoken out had been fired because of it,” he said.

They were not fired actually,” he corrected himself. “They were leaned on to resign and told that they would get end-of-service benefits if they resigned, or otherwise they would be fired.

These commentators don’t seem to expect Flydubai to take measures to correct its policies after the fatal crash in Russia, which claimed 62 lives, including seven of their colleagues.

“Apart from the bad PR it’s probably not thought of as anything worse than a few laborers killed on a building site,” one comment said.

“Baghdad, Kabul, Baghram, Abha… everything ended in Rostov,” another one replies.

Flydubai is a low-cost airline owned by the United Arab Emirates. It was established in 2008 with Emirates Airlines helping it to take off. The two companies have no management ties other than being both owned by the UAE government.

When required to comment on the allegations, Flydubai denied any negligence and said it strictly followed all rules applying to duty time regulations in compiling duty rosters.

“For Flydubai the safety and welfare of our flight crew and cabin crew is of primary importance,” the airline told RT in an email. “If a member of flight crew feels that, for whatever reason, they have not been able to get enough rest before starting a shift, our Safety Management Systems (SMS), encourages pilots to declare themselves unfit to fly.”

The UAE aviation regulator, the General Civil Aviation Authority, said it is prohibited by the law from providing comments on the allegations.

article is by Russia Today

The flight path this unfortunate airliner took after arrival at Rostov trying to wait out the storm (after 2 hours of circling)

RT

Unaccompanied child removed from ‘overbooked’ EasyJet flight from Gatwick

A 15-year-old boy was left at an airport departure lounge after reportedly being removed from an overbooked flight.

Casper Read, from West Sussex, boarded flight EZY833 from Gatwick on Thursday morning to meet his grandparents in Toulouse.

The teenager texted his mother to say he was safely onboard shortly before another passenger claimed the seat and Casper was asked by crew to leave the plane, The Guardian reported.

EasyJet have since apologised for “any inconvenience” and have launched an investigation.

His mother Stephanie Portal told the newspaper: “They left him alone in departures.

“Luckily, I had still not got on board my train to London and could come back and find him.

“If I had not been there I don’t know what would have happened – he’d have had no money for the train back or anything.”

Casper was then allocated a seat on the final flight of the day to Toulouse.

An EastJet spokeswoman told the Guardian: “EasyJet is sorry that Casper Read’s flight from London Gatwick to Toulouse was overbooked. We are investigating why he was able to board the aircraft as he should have been informed at the gate.

“EasyJet has a procedure to protect unaccompanied minors but unfortunately this was not followed on this occasion and so this will also be investigated.”

Evening Standard

Did this cool headed submarine Commander save your life?

Temperament matters. Especially when nuclear weapons are involved.

you don’t—you can’t—know what the enemy is up to, and you’re scared. Then it helps (it helps a lot) to be calm.

 

The world owes an enormous debt to a quiet, steady Russian naval officer who probably saved my life. And yours. And everyone you know. Even those of you who weren’t yet born. I want to tell his story…October 1962, the height of the Cuban missile crisis, and there’s a Soviet submarine in the Caribbean that’s been spotted by the American Navy. President Kennedy has blockaded Cuba. No sea traffic is permitted through.

The sub is hiding in the ocean, and the Americans are dropping depth charges left and right of the hull. Inside, the sub is rocking, shaking with each new explosion. What the Americans don’t know is that this sub has a tactical nuclear torpedo on board, available to launch, and that the Russian captain is asking himself, Shall I fire?

This actually happened.

The Russian in question, an exhausted, nervous submarine commander named Valentin Savitsky, decided to do it. He ordered the nuclear-tipped missile readied. His second in command approved the order. Moscow hadn’t communicated with its sub for days. Eleven U.S. Navy ships were nearby, all possible targets. The nuke on this missile had roughly the power of the bomb at Hiroshima.

“WE’RE GONNA BLAST THEM NOW!”

Temperatures in the submarine had climbed above 100 degrees. The air-conditioning system was broken, and the ship couldn’t surface without being exposed. The captain felt doomed. Vadim Orlov, an intelligence officer who was there, remembers a particularly loud blast: “The Americans hit us with something stronger than the grenades—apparently with a practice depth bomb,” . “We thought, That’s it, the end.” And that’s when, he says, the Soviet captain shouted, “Maybe the war has already started up there … We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not become the shame of the fleet.”

Had Savitsky launched his torpedo, had he vaporized a U.S. destroyer or aircraft carrier, the U.S. would probably have responded with nuclear-depth charges, “thus,” wrote Russian archivist Svetlana, understating wildly, “starting a chain of inadvertent developments, which could have led to catastrophic consequences.”

But it didn’t happen, because that’s when Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov steps into the story.34 at the time. Good looking, with a full head of hair and something like a spit curl dangling over his forehead. He was Savitsky’s equal, the flotilla commander responsible for three Russian subs on this secret mission to Cuba—and he is maybe one of the quietest, most unsung heroes of modern times.

What he said to Savitsky we will never know, not exactly. But,  the former director of the nongovernmental  simply put, this “guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.

Arkhipov, described by his wife as a modest, soft-spoken man, simply talked Savitsky down.

The exact details are controversial. The way it’s usually told is that each of the three Soviet submarine captains in the ocean around Cuba had the power to launch a nuclear torpedo if—and only if—he had the consent of all three senior officers on board. On his sub, Savitsky gave the order and got one supporting vote, but Arkhipov balked. He wouldn’t go along.

He argued that this was not an attack.

The official Soviet debriefs are still secret, but a Russian reporter,  and an eyewitness testimony from intelligence officer Orlov suggest that Arkhipov told the captain that the ship was not in danger. It was being asked to surface. Dropping depth charges left then right, noisy but always off target—those are signals, Arkhipov argued. They say, We know you’re there. Identify yourselves. Come up and talk. We intend no harm.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

The Russian crew couldn’t tell what was going on above them: They’d gone silent well before the crisis began. Their original orders were to go directly to Cuba, but then, without explanation, they’d been ordered to stop and wait in the Caribbean. Orlov, who had lived in America, heard from American radio stations that Russia had secretly brought missiles to the island, that Cuba had shot down a U.S. spy plane, that President Kennedy had ordered the U.S. Navy to surround the island and let no one pass through. When Americans had spotted the sub, Savitsky had ordered it to drop deeper into the ocean, to get out of sight—but that had cut them off. They couldn’t hear (and didn’t trust) U.S. media. For all they knew, the war had already begun.

We don’t know how long they argued. We do know that the nuclear weapons the Russians carried (each ship had just one, with a special guard who stayed with it, day and night) were to be used only if Russia itself had been attacked. Or if attack was imminent. Savitsky felt he had the right to fire first. Official Russian accounts insist he needed a direct order from Moscow, but Archipov’s wife Olga says there was a confrontation.

She and Ryurik Ketov, the gold-toothed captain of a nearby Russian sub, both heard the story directly from Vasili. Both believe him and say so in documentary. Some scenes are dramatized, but listen to what they say…

 

As the drama unfolded, Kennedy worried that the Russians would mistake depth charges for an attack. When his defense secretary said the U.S. was dropping “grenade”-size signals over the subs, the president winced. His brother Robert Kennedy said that talk of depth charges “were the time of greatest worry to the President. His hand went up to his face [and] he closed his fist.”

 

The Russian command, for its part, had no idea how tough it was inside those subs. Anatoly Andreev, a crew member on a different, nearby sub, kept a journal, a continuing letter to his wife,

 

For the last four days, they didn’t even let us come up to the periscope depth… My head is bursting from the stuffy air… Today three sailors fainted from overheating again… The regeneration of air works poorly, the carbon dioxide content [is] rising, and the electric power reserves are dropping. Those who are free from their shifts, are sitting immobile, staring at one spot… Temperature in the sections is above 50 [122ºF].

The debate between the captain and Arkhipov took place in an old, diesel-powered submarine designed for Arctic travel but stuck in a climate that was close to unendurable. And yet, Arkhipov kept his cool. After their confrontation, the missile was not readied for firing. Instead, the Russian sub rose to the surface, where it was met by a U.S. destroyer. The Americans didn’t board. There were no inspections, so the U.S. Navy had no idea that there were nuclear torpedos on those subs—and wouldn’t know for around 50 years, when the former belligerents met at reunion. Instead, the Russians turned away from Cuba and headed north, back to Russia. He’s the guy who stopped the captain. He’s the one who stood in the way.

 

He was, as best as we can tell, not punished by the Soviets. He was later promoted. The Soviet Navy conducted a formal review and how the man in charge, Marshal Grachko, when told about conditions on those ships, “removed his glasses and hit them against the table in fury, breaking them into small pieces, and abruptly leaving the room after that.”

Managed to keep his temper in all that heat, how he managed to persuade his frantic colleague, we can’t say, but it helps to know that Arkhipov was already a Soviet hero. A year earlier he’d been on another Soviet sub, the K-19, when the coolant system failed and the onboard nuclear reactor was in danger of meltdown. With no backup system, the captain ordered the crew to jerry-rig a repair, and Arkhipov, among others, got exposed to high levels of radiation. Twenty-two crew members died from radiation sickness over the next two years. Arkhipov wouldn’t die until 1998, but it would be from kidney cancer, brought on, it’s said, by exposure.

Nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous. Handling them, using them, not using them, requires caution, care. Living as we do now with North Korea, Pakistani generals, jihadists, and who knows who’ll be the next U.S. president, the world is very, very lucky that at one critical moment, someone calm enough, careful enough, and cool enough was there to say no.

journalist and author of the National Geographic

Portugal burns (again) in deadly forest fires

Macao (Portugal) (AFP) – Forest fires raged in the early hours of Thursday in central Portugal, cutting off roads and forcing thousands to flee just a month after deadly blazes left more than 60 people dead.

The biggest blaze was in Serta, in the Castelo Branco region, where more than a quarter of the country’s firefighters were attempting to halt its progress.

Portugal has been battling fresh fires since Sunday in the centre of the country, forcing the evacuation of around 10 villages.

“The fire has spread throughout the afternoon,” Portuguese civil protection spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said Wednesday, though there were hopes that the wind and temperatures would drop overnight, making the firefighters’ work easier.

Thirty kilometres further south another major fire reached Macao — a town with a population of 2,000 — just before midnight, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

“We aren’t managing to control the flames which are advancing on four or five fronts,” local mayor Vasco Estrelan said earlier.

Villagers attempted to help firefighters, trying to extinguish the flames with hosepipes and buckets of water.

Flames reached the nearby A23 motorway, cutting off a 40-kilometre (25-mile) section, while traffic on the A25 further north was also blocked.

“We have been trying for more than two hours to control the fire that is heading towards the road, to prevent it from reaching our village,” said Eduardo Forte, an entrepreneur who lives in nearby Pereiro.

A 50-year-old housewife was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of causing the fire that devastated Castelo Branco by using a lighter.

Nearly 8,000 forest fires have broken out in Portugal since the beginning of the year, consuming 75,000 hectares of forests — a 10-year-record — and 80 percent of the country is suffering from severe or extreme drought. Sixty-five suspected arsonists have been arrested.

“Today, we had all the ingredients for fire on a tragic scale. Our forests are in a state of abandon, there are too many pines and eucalyptus trees,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

“We will certainly have other fires of this magnitude, because the high risk will last until autumn,” he added.

Last month’s fires in Portugal sadly left 64 people dead.

AFP

Divided Britain:Public Attitudes after seven years of austerity

Economic instability and the class divide

The British economy has experienced considerable stress and change in recent years and we might expect this to have affected how we think about class and our place in society. It seems that it has. We find that British people believe that there is a wide gulf between people of different classes and that it is harder today than in the past to move from one class to another.

–       Class divide: Most people (77%) think the class divide is fairly or very wide, compared with 23% who say it is not very wide or there is no difference. People who identify as working class (82%) are more likely than those who say they are middle class (70%) to believe the divide between social classes is wide.

–       Less socially mobile: More people believe it is difficult to move between classes today than did 10 years ago. Nearly 3 in 4 (73%) believe it is fairly or very difficult to move between classes, compared with 65% who held this view in 2005. People who identify as working class are more likely than middle class identifiers to think moving between classes is very difficult.

–       Majority working class: With the decline of Britain’s manufacturing base manual workers are no longer in the majority in Britain. Nevertheless, 60% of people describe themselves as working class compared with 40% who say they are middle class, the same as in 1983. Almost half of people in professional and managerial occupations say they are working class.

Kirby Swales, Director of NatCen’s Survey Centre: “The class divide is alive and well in Britain and the economic instability and austerity of recent years seem to have sharpened our belief that it is difficult to move from one class to another. Class divisions have been highlighted recently with the vote to leave the EU with some commentators talking about disaffection among the working class. Our findings certainly show that people who believe themselves to be working class are more likely to believe in a class divide than those who say they are middle class and more think it is difficult to move between classes than did in the past.

Class identity is also closely linked to attitudes in other areas. Those who say they are working class are far more likely to be opposed to immigration, one of the defining issues of the EU Referendum, even when they are in professional and managerial jobs.”

Austerity vs public spending

After seven years of austerity we might expect the public to begin to tire of cuts in spending. Such a reaction now seems to be emerging. Support for increases in overall public spending and spending on benefits is now higher than it was before the financial crash, while more people think that the NHS has a severe funding problem.

–       Support for public spending at pre-crash level: Public backing for more taxation and public spending is at its highest point (45%) for a decade. Almost as many now want to see spending and taxation increased as would like them to stay the same (47%).

–       Opposition to benefit cuts: A majority are opposed to cuts to welfare and 39% think that the government should spend more on welfare benefits for the poor – higher than at any time since 2003.

–       NHS funding crisis: Almost everyone(93%), thinks the NHS has a funding problem and 32% say this problem is severe – up from 19% in 2014. In spite of this, there is no consensus about how to bridge the funding gap. While 42% are willing to pay more through taxes, 26% say the NHS should live within its means.

However, the public’s views on benefits depend on who is the recipient. People are particularly unsympathetic towards the unemployed and benefit recipients of working age with no children.

–       Changing priorities: Since 2011, public support for more spending on benefits for people who are disabled and cannot work has increased by 8 percentage points up to 61% and for single parents by 7, up to 36%. Over the same period support for more spending on retired people has fallen by 8 points although the proportion in favour is still as high as a half (49%).

–       Tough on the unemployed: 45% back a cut in benefits for unemployed people. Six in ten say there should be a limit on how long people receive unemployment benefit. And more than 8 in 10 say people should take a job that is unsuitable in some way if they are unemployed and in receipt of benefits.

–       Spare bedroom subsidy: A majority of people (55%) oppose the reduction of housing benefit for people with a spare bedroom. However, 48% of those aged 18-24 back the policy, compared with only 31% of those 75 or over.

Elizabeth Clery, Research Director, NatCen Social Research: “We have witnessed a big rise in support for higher public spending; support is now back to a level not seen since before the financial crash. After seven years of austerity the public is clearly worried about the funding of the NHS and reckons that, for some groups at least, spending on benefits should be increased.

However, not all cuts to welfare are unpopular. Almost half the public want cuts to unemployment benefits and very few want to see them increased. Even a supposedly controversial cut to benefits like the ‘bedroom tax’ is pretty popular among a large segment of the population. This is especially true for young people who may be struggling to find an affordable place to live.”

The recession and our experience of work

We might expect a long period of recession and economic instability to have affected how we feel about our jobs. We might for example, expect more people to feel insecure and thus unhappy about their jobs.

At first glance, however, the British public appear to have come out the other side of the recession happier at work and more positive about their jobs.

–       Better jobs for more people: The overall proportion of workers who have a good job (that is, one with at least four attributes such as ‘opportunities for advancement’ or ‘a high income’) has increased from 57% in 1989 and 62% in 2005 to 71% now. Contrary to expectations, no groups have seen a decrease in job quality; this is true for older and younger people, those in the highest social class and those in the lowest, and both men and women.

–       More than just the money: In 2015, 62% of people said they would enjoy having a job even if they didn’t need the money. This figure is considerably higher than the 49% who were of this view in 2005.

However, some people, especially in working class occupations, are finding work more stressful and less flexible.

–       Stress at work: The proportion of workers who say they experience stress in their jobs has increased and now stands at 37%. Those in lower skilled occupations have seen one of the greatest increases in stress: 29% of those in semi-routine and routine jobs find work stressful ‘always’ or ‘often’, up from 19% in 2005.

–       Freedom for some: More workers today say they are free to decide how to organise their daily work. However, while more people in professional and managerial jobs are able to control their patterns of work, fewer people in lower skilled jobs can do so; 57% of those in routine or semi-routine jobs say they are not free to decide how their daily work is organised compared with 42% in 2005.

NatCen (Britain’s largest independent social research agency)

Syrian army advances against Daesh in Raqqah

Syrian government forces and their allies have advanced against Daesh Takfiri terrorists in the countryside east of Raqqah City, a monitoring group says.

On Thursday, the Syrian forces advanced four kilometers (2.5 miles) within the town of Maadan and crossed the provincial boundary between Raqqah Province, the de facto capital of the Daesh terrorist group in Syria, and Dayr al-Zawr Province, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Syrian forces are now getting closer to the territory controlled by US-backed forces fighting against Daesh in Raqqa City, the report said.

On Thursday, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed group of mostly Kurdish forces, announced that it has wrested control over half of the Syrian city of Raqqah. The SDF launched its assault on Raqqah on June 6.

The US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against what are said to be Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

A US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter, runs as he fires mortars against the Daesh Takfiri terrorists in Raqqah city on July 27, 2017. (Photo by AP)

The military alliance has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians. It has also been largely incapable of fulfilling its declared aim of destroying Daesh.

The city of Raqqah, which lies on the northern bank of the Euphrates River, was overrun by Daesh terrorists in March 2013, and proclaimed the center for most of the Takfiris’ administrative and control tasks the next year.

Over the past few months, Syrian forces have made sweeping gains against Takfiri elements, which have lately increased their acts of violence across the country following a series of defeats on the ground.

Presstv

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