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    What is the Doha Round and How Many Livelihoods Hang in the Balance? - Faizel Ismail (1/3)

    The Real News Network - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 03:07
    An eminent trade negotiator explains the global value chain approach to trade and gives a first hand account of negotiating the WTO Doha Development Agenda

    U.S. Officials: MH17 Missile May Have Been Launched By a “Defector from The Ukrainian Military Who Was Trained To Use Similar Missile Systems”

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 02:26
    Yves here. I wanted to add this short post as an indicator of the lack of definitive knowledge (at least among those who are being candid with the media) as to critical details as to how the MH17 was destroyed, in particular ones that would give a definitive reading as to what group pulled the […]
    Categories: political economy

    More Details on Our San Francisco Meetup, Wednesday July 30

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 02:20
    Let us know if you are coming to our meetup in San Francisco so we can make a reservation!
    Categories: political economy

    What Is Shaping Global Production and US & EU Trade Policy? - Faizel Ismail (2/3)

    The Real News Network - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 02:07
    An eminent trade negotiator explains the raison d'etre of the global value chain approach to trade and its rise to prominence in the WTO

    Israeli Human Rights Spokesperson: Attacks on Civilians Unjustifiable

    The Real News Network - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 02:07
    B'Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli says although Hamas has violated international law by firing on Israeli civilians, this does not give Israel license to kill Gazan civilians

    Are People Who Shoot Down Passenger Planes 'War Criminals'–or 'Hard to Fault'?

    FAIR blog - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 16:04
    If you're going to shoot down a civilian jetliner--from the New York Times' point of view--it helps to be working for the US Navy when you do it.

    New Report Highlights Extreme Isolation Endured by Terrorism Suspects

    Solitary Watch - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 14:06

    Metropolitan Correctional Center, Photograph Jim Henderson

    On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) in association with Columbia Law School released a 214-page reported entitled Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions. While the report and accompanying video document a wide range of human and civil rights abuses faced by alleged and convicted terrorists, nearly all of whom are Muslims, a significant portion of the text focuses on the restrictive and arguably torturous conditions of confinement they endure both before and after trial.

    Extensively detailed in the report are the conditions endured by those placed in Florence ADX federal supermax prison and in the federal Bureau of Prisons’ two Communication Management Units (CMUs), located at Marion, Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana. Describing life at ADX, one individual interviewed for the report commented, “There’s a lot of times the walls are caving in. It’s – you can’t talk to nobody… It’s like staying alone in a bathroom for three days.”

    In the two CMUs – nicknamed “Little Guantanamos” — “inmates are constantly surveilled and their communication with the outside world is heavily restricted,” including with their families. The Center for Constitutional Rights has previously described the CMUs as an “experiment in social isolation.”

    Also featured in the report is an analysis of the use and misuse of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), restrictions placed on inmates, attorneys and even their families purportedly to protect national security or prevent the disclosure of classified material. As authors note, “SAMs often require the imposition of extreme physical and social isolation. In the order we obtained through a FOIA regarding 20 to 22 prisoners, SAMs banned at least 20 prisoners from ‘making statements audible to other prisoners or sending notes’ and required them to be housed in single cells ‘separated as much as possible in cellblock area form other inmates.’”

    SAMs also enhance isolation by preventing prisoners from communicating with the outside world – for example, letters to family are limited to “‘3 pieces of paper, once per week, single recipient’” and visits “require 14 days’ notice and can include only one adults at a time.” Severe restrictions are also placed on material coming to the inside; one prisoner was even initially denied access to both of President Obama’s books.

    The report also specifically addresses how the imposition of SAMs and the use of solitary confinement pre-trial may affect the fairness and constitutionality of the courts:

    Prolonged pretrial solitary confinement not only raises concerns of cruel and inhumane treatment of punishment, but it also has an impact on defendants’ ability to assist in their own defense, and may compel them to wave their trial rights and accept plea deals.

    According to the report, 30 out of the 52 individuals currently facing federal terrorism charges are being held in Special Housing Units (SHUs). The conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) 10-South unit – where many terrorism defendants have been held pre-trial – are described at length in the text. In a letter to his sister, an individual who spent 33 months in solitary confinement at MCC described “a bright light on for twenty-four hours” and cells “extremely cold throughout the year.”

    MCC is the prison where the No Separate Justice Campaign has been holding its monthly vigils, in hopes of shining a light on the exact kind of injustices detailed in HRW’s report. It is also where Mahdi Hashi, the Briton stripped of his citizenship and rendered to the United States last year, is being held in 24-hour isolation. In an April 2014 article published on Vice, Mohammad Hashi explained how being held under SAMs and in solitary confinement was impacting his son: “It’s like they want to demoralize him… If you’re left locked in a room, 23 hours a day, knowing nothing about what’s going on, obviously you will give up, life will have no meaning to you.”


    Backed by Big Telecom, GOP Takes Aim at Net Neutrality and Community Broadband

    Truthout - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:45

    Save the internet musical action at the FCC, July 2, 2014. (Photo: Free Press / Flickr)

    Why are members of Congress trying to derail popular efforts at the Federal Communications Commission to protect local broadband competition and establish meaningful net neutrality rules? The answer is easy: just follow the money.

    Backed by Big Telecom, GOP Takes Aim at Net Neutrality and Community Broadband

    Truthout - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:45

    Save the internet musical action at the FCC, July 2, 2014. (Photo: Free Press / Flickr)

    Why are members of Congress trying to derail popular efforts at the Federal Communications Commission to protect local broadband competition and establish meaningful net neutrality rules? The answer is easy: just follow the money.

    Nicky Morgan's statement on Birmingham 'Trojan horse' inquiry: Politics live blog

    The Guardian (UK) NSA Files - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 11:32

    Nicky Morgan's statement on the 'Trojan horse' report - Summary
    Afternoon summary

    4.32pm BST

    Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has said that teachers involved in allowing extremism in Birmingham schools will face misconduct hearings after a report found a "disturbing" effort by Islamic hardliners to gain control of some schools in the city.

    David Cameron has said the government will legally oblige doctors, social workers and teachers to report female genital mutilation (FGM) if they see it.

    While this report identifies some important areas for improvement, its limited remit means the worst excesses of the current sanctions regime look set to remain in place.

    Jobcentre Plus staff want to build trusting relationships with claimants, but instead they are being made to harass them. With sanctions increasingly forcing people to rely on food banks to feed their families, a full independent review which looks at all benefit sanctions and the culture of harassment at Jobcentre Plus is now urgently needed.

    The government considers that now is an appropriate time to review the EU level rules with a view to modernisation and ensuring they are fit for purpose in the EU of today.

    The rules have evolved beyond the original scope as the EU has evolved and the interaction between rules on residence and social security coordination becoming increasingly complex. This complexity has led to an increasing number of challenges through the European court of justice, creating uncertainty and, in the majority of cases, weakening the ability of member states to determine how their systems operate.

    4.03pm BST

    Liam Byrne, the Birmingham Hodge Hill MP and a shadow minister, has put a lengthy statement about the Clarke report on his blog. Here's an extract.

    The reports of the last few days paint a damming picture of how parents and children were let down. Our parents want the very best education for their kids. But now they fear the reputation of the school will slow them down in life. Pupils have told me directly how TV cameras were poked in their faces on their way to their exams, putting them off their stride. Others have told me how city firms have turned them down for work experience when they found out where they went to school. This is appalling. Our children have been let down by the adults.

    Last week, Sir Albert Bore was fulsome in his apology. But Park View has been an academy for nearly two years, answering to the Department for Education; yet the secretary of state today refused to say sorry. That was shameful.

    4.00pm BST

    Here's a short afternoon reading list.

    James Kirkup at the Telegraph says a YouGov poll suggests Ukip supporters are shorter than the supporters of other parties.

    YouGov have been kind enough to supply me with their data from the poll conducted earlier this month which breaks down respondents' self-reported height by their party affiliation.

    And on the basis of that data, we can suggest that the tallest party in Britain is the Liberal Democrats, followed by the Conservatives and Labour. The shortest is Ukip.

    We also have internal party elections going on. Compared to previous rounds I can honestly say the feeling is completely different. Previous elections have been characterised by quite a bit of sectarianism and negative campaigning. This one is good natured and comradely.

    None of this means debate or diversity of opinion has disappeared from Labour. Any party with wide enough support to win power is going to include a broad range of opinions, currents and traditions. But the way we treat each other as we conduct those debates and elections seems to be getting more good natured. We are looking more for what we can agree on than disagree. More effort is being made to show respect for fellow members who share the same core values and vision of a fairer society even if they differ around the policies needed to get there.

    3.32pm BST

    My colleague Patrick Wintour points out that a rather damning line, which was included in the draft of the Peter Clarke report leaked to the Guardian last week, has mysteriously disappeared.

    In the draft Clarke said:

    In theory, academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can almost amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine.

    The autonomy granted to those who run academies is generally a welcome development yet can make those institutions vulnerable to those without good intentions. Academies are accountable to the Secretary of State but that accountability can prove inadequate in circumstances where the governors are pursuing an inappropriate agenda but where the educational and financial performance of the academy indicate that everything is fine.

    3.23pm BST

    Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, has issued a lengthy statement about the Clarke "Trojan horse" report. Here's an extract.

    The report is an inconvenient truth for the coalition government; it exposes a litany of failures which strike at the heart of the coalition governments education policy.

    The majority of the 15 recommendations made by Mr Clarke are directed at addressing failures by the Department for Education over a lack of suitable controls to ensure that public interests are safeguarded at all times.

    2.46pm BST

    Here are the main points from Nicky Morgan's statement about the "Trojan horse" affair. She addressed the Commons shortly after the Department for Education published Peter Clarke's report into the affair (which was leaked to the Guardian in draft last week).

    Morgan said that some of the teachers involved could be banned from the teaching profession.

    The National College for Teaching and Leadership will take the extensive evidence provided by Peter Clarke so that its misconduct panel can consider whether any teachers involved should be barred from the profession.

    Mr Speaker, may I use parliamentary privilege to name a few individuals I think a further investigation needs to be made on: David Hughes, a former council official; Les Lawrence, a former cabinet member in Birmingham; Jackie Hughes and Kira Buttwell, all officers of the local authority included in this huge tragedy of keeping these schools in a position they should not have been in.

    I have spoken to Sir Albert Bore and we have agreed that I will appoint a new education commissioner within the council to oversee its actions to address the fundamental criticisms in the Kershaw and Clarke reports, while building resilience in the system as a whole. The commissioner will report jointly to Birminghams chief executive and to me. If we are unable to make rapid progress with these new arrangements, I will not hesitate to use my powers to intervene further.

    [Eric Pickles, the communities secretary] has also spoken to Sir Albert Bore about the need to address the wider weaknesses that these events have highlighted in the governance culture of the council. They have agreed that Sir Bob Kerslake will lead a review of governance in the city council, reporting with recommendations for both the short and medium term by the end of 2014.

    The free market model of schooling pioneered by your predecessor has been sunk by the events in Birmingham. Why not a schools commissioner or a director of schools standards for Liverpool, for Manchester, for London?Because what Peter Clarke's report reveals is that coalition education policy is bust and has fomented the crisis in Birmingham.

    The truth of the matter is this. The chaotic, deregulated, fractured education policy this government has pursued has increased the risks of radicalisation in English schools ...

    I want to be clear those who seek to use this case to undermine this governments reform agenda will be disappointed. Today there are more than four thousand academies and free schools serving pupils and parents up and down the country. They are helping thousands of young people, regardless of their background, to unlock their potential and become valuable and rounded members of society. The expansion of the academy programme has been one of the great success stories of this government and the actions of a small number of individuals will not divert us from this path.

    encouraged that @NickyMorgan01 will look at inspection of academy chains not just the schools in the chains in answer to my question

    Advice to the panel already provides that actions which undermine fundamental British values should be viewed as misconduct. I will strengthen that advice to make clear that exposing pupils to extremist speakers should be regarded as a failure to protect pupils and promote British values. I will also strengthen the advice to make it clear that prohibition from teaching should be imposed while such cases are investigated and a prohibition without review made where misconduct is proved.

    We will strengthen our regulations to bar unsuitable persons from running independent schools, including academies and free schools. Anyone barred in this way will also be prohibited from being governor in any maintained school.

    I am pleased that HMCI has already decided, and notified schools earlier this month, that he would be broadening next term the criteria Ofsted uses to judge whether unannounced inspection is required for a particular school.

    HMCI believes there are advantages to extending no notice inspection to all schools and will use his consultation in the autumn on changes to the 2015 inspection regime to consult on whether universal no notice or a different change to the no notice regime should be made.

    1.41pm BST

    Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, says he's identified two U-turns in Nicky Morgan's statement.

    Nicky Morgan's two U-turns on schools policy: 1) Schools Commissioners; 2) OFSTED inspection of academy chains. Is she seeing the light?

    1.31pm BST

    Philip Hollobone, a Conservative, asks what the department will do to give people afraid of being accused of Islamophobia the confidence to tackle extremism.

    Morgan says that further work will address this.

    1.28pm BST

    Here is the full text of Nicky Morgan's statement.

    1.26pm BST

    Bob Stewart, a Conservative, asks if there is a pamphlet telling teachers what British values are.

    Morgan says the list of British values is in the Ofsted inspections handbook.

    1.25pm BST

    Labour's Heidi Alexander asks about the £2m fraud in the Haberdashers' Aske's chain. When will the government accept its oversight mechanisms aren't satisfactory?

    Morgan says she does not accept that there is an oversight problem.

    1.23pm BST

    Andrew Stephenson, a Conservative, asks for a reassurance that the government will not abandon support for faith-based schools.

    Morgan gives that assurance. None of these schools were faith ones, she says.

    1.20pm BST

    Labour's Nic Dakin says Morgan seems to be recognising the need for local oversight of schools. How will new new Birmingham education commissioner interact with the new regional schools commissioner for the West Midlands.

    Morgan says they will work together.

    1.18pm BST

    Labour's Lyn Brown asks if was a mistake for Michael Gove to remove the requirement to promote community cohesion as a duty on schools. Will she change that?

    Morgan says she will discuss this with Ofsted. But just ensuring a school ticks a box does not address the problem.

    1.16pm BST

    Morgan says some of the schools involved were outstanding. But still problems occurred. That is why she is going to be expanding her department's counter-extremism department.

    1.15pm BST

    David Ward, a Lib Dem MP, says he is concerned about the use of the word of extremism. What extremism were the children exposed to? And would these activities have been out of place at a faith school?

    Morgan says extremism is defined as opposition to fundamental British values. They include calling for the death of members of the armed forces. The details of a WhatsApp conversation in the report on this are shocking, she says.

    1.12pm BST

    Robert Wilson, a Conservative, asks if Morgan believes in beating back the crocodiles as a means of combating extremism, or draining the swamp.

    Morgan says she believes in working with the Muslim community to tackle extremism. The vast majority of Muslims are opposed, she says.

    1.08pm BST

    Shabana Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, says the way this affair has been handled, including leaks, has led to children at the schools involved being stigmatised and bullied.

    Morgan says Mahmood is right to say there are issues for everyone to address.

    1.06pm BST

    Labour's Richard Burden asks why Morgan is pressing ahead with education reforms when there is a problem with oversight of schools.

    Morgan says she has seen no evidence of fragmentation. There is close cooperation between schools and councils.

    1.04pm BST

    Labour's Bill Esterson asks Morgan if she accepts the needs for the inspection of academy chains.

    Morgan says she is going to look at this issue. It does need to be considered, she says.

    1.02pm BST

    Liam Byrne, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, asks what will be done to improve Park View school. Its best days are ahead.

    Morgan says the school needs to move on.

    1.00pm BST

    John Hemming, a Lib Dem, asks Morgan if she accepts that having conservative religious views does not make someone an extremist.

    Morgan says that the report found only a small group of people at fault.

    12.59pm BST

    Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, names some individuals from the schools involved and from the council whom he says should be investigated further.

    Morgan says that the department will look into this.

    12.57pm BST

    Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former cabinet minster and Sutton Coldfield MP, welcomes the fact that Clarke found no evidence of radicalisation.

    12.56pm BST

    David Blunkett, the Labour former education secretary, welcomes Morgan to her post. It is the most rewarding job in government, he says. Does she agree too many governors are self-selecting?

    Morgan says the Clarke report only refers to a small group of governors.

    12.55pm BST

    Graham Stuart, the Conservative chair of the education committee, says his committee will be looking into this. Will Morgan delay her next steps until it has reported?

    Morgan says she will have to look at the timelines.

    12.53pm BST

    Morgan is replying to Hunt.

    She says Clarke says, on page 90, that there was no problem with governance generally. The problem was with a few governors in Birmingham, she says.

    12.51pm BST

    Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, is responding.

    He says this report is a "devastating indictment" of government policy.

    12.45pm BST

    Morgan says he has spoken to Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham council, and a new education commissioner for the council will be appointed.

    If necessary, Morgan says she will use her powers to take further control over Birmingham.

    12.39pm BST

    Nicky Morgan is starting her statement now.

    She says schools should prepare children for life in modern Britain, and for the modern world. Parents want their schools to open doors, not close them. That is true for the majority of Muslims too, she says.

    12.24pm BST

    And here are more extracts from Peter Clarke's conclusion.

    I neither specifically looked for nor found evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham. However, by reference to the definition of extremism in the Prevent strand of the Governments counter terrorist strategy, CONTEST, and the spectrum of extremism described by the Prime Minister in his Munich speech in February 2011, I found clear evidence that there are a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views.

    It has been suggested to me that the ambition of those involved was only to create high achieving schools reflecting the communities they serve, following the wishes of the majority of parents. I do not agree. On the contrary, while the majority of parents welcome the good academic results that some of these schools produce, they do not demand that their children adhere to conservative religious behaviour at school. Indeed, I received evidence that this would be supported by only a minority of parents. I was told how some of those who claimed most loudly that they were acting for the community either Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from 'Trojan Horse' letter protest alone or co-opt relatives to protest with them. I was also told by many witnesses that the majority do not have the confidence to argue against the articulate and forceful activists who seek to impose their views, for fear of being branded as disloyal to their faith or their community.

    12.22pm BST

    Here is an extract from Peter Clarke's conclusion

    At the centre of what has happened are a number of individuals who have been, or are, associated with either Park View School or the Park View Educational Trust. Time and again, people who have been either teachers or governors at Park View appear to be involved in behaviours at other schools that have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. The tactics used are too similar, the individuals concerned too closely linked, and the behaviour of a few parents and governors too orchestrated for there not to be a degree of co-ordination and organisation behind what has happened. The clear conclusion is that the Park View Educational Trust has, in effect, become the incubator for much of what has happened and the attitudes and behaviours that have driven it.

    There has been co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham. This has been achieved by gaining influence on the governing bodies, installing sympathetic headteachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to key positions, and seeking to remove headteachers they do not feel to be sufficiently compliant. Some of these individuals are named in this report; most are not. Whether their motivation reflects a political agenda, a deeply held religious conviction, personal gain or a desire to influence communities, the effect has been to limit the life chances of the young people in their care and to render them more vulnerable to pernicious influences in the future.

    12.14pm BST

    Peter Clarke's report has just been published.

    It's 129-pages long. Here it is (pdf).

    12.12pm BST

    Nicky Morgan, the new education secretary, will be making a Commons statement about Peter Clarke's inquiry into the "Trojan horse" allegations about Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools.

    Here's some background reading

    11.59am BST

    The Labour MP Tom Watson and the Conservative MP David Davis are taking the government to court. In a move backed by Liberty, they are seeking judicial review of the government's emergency surveillance legislation (the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act) passed last week.

    Here's an extract from the Liberty news release.

    Liberty is arguing on Mr Davis and Mr Watsons behalf that the new legislation is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to respect for private and family life, and Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

    Since 2009, communications data has been retained by public communications services and network providers under a 2009 EU Data Retention Directive. But in April the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the Directive was invalid because it was so sweeping in its interference with individual privacy rights. The judgment made clear that existing UK legislation, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), required urgent review.

    11.44am BST

    You can read all todays Guardian politics stories here. And all the politics stories filed yesterday, including some in todays paper, are here.

    As for the rest of the papers, heres the PoliticsHome list of top 10 must-reads, and heres the ConservativeHome round-up of political stories in today's papers.

    We have come to believe that, because Mr Blair said the word bold a lot, he actually was. In truth, he was a gradualist prime minister whose place in history does not derive from any rupture in policy or revolution in the state. His place in history comes from the magnitude of his political success. He might turn out to be the last truly national politician: the last to win support in every region of the country and the last to achieve 40 per cent of the popular vote ...

    This stalemate is written all over the Labour and Tory campaigns for next years general election. Labour is not, as alleged, aiming to win just 35 per cent of the vote that figure actually represents their estimated floor of support but neither is it straining to lure voters who are not already left-leaning. A squeaked victory on a leftwing platform is preferred to the centrist landslides in which Mr Blair specialised.

    Blairs precise advice is fairly vague. Having listened to many of his speeches in recent years I find that general assertions are rarely backed up by detailed prescriptions in relation to the dilemmas that Miliband now faces. Partly Blair is being discreet, but that is not the sole explanation. Blair argues there is no left and right division any more, the only divide being between those who seek open or closed societies. The assertion might reflect his personal journey but to extrapolate a global trend from that is quite a leap. I can see what he means in relation to immigration, Europe and dealing with Ukip. On all of these, he is impressively forensic. But on other mighty issues, he offers no clear route map. Who pays for health and elderly care when people are living longer? With good cause, Blair regretted the closure of Sure Start centres, but does that mean he believes Miliband should pledge to reopen some? The answers will be determined partly by whether an advocate is on the left or right.

    11.28am BST

    The Treasury has today announced that councillors' travel expenses will be exempt from income tax. David Gauke, the financial secretary to the Treasury, revealed this in a written ministerial statement (pdf).

    Local councillors perform a vital but frequently unsung constitutional role working on behalf of local people, often in addition to other professional and personal commitments. They are required to perform their duties in both the communities they serve and their council offices and most receive no payment other than allowances in recognition of the time and expenses they incur.

    The Government wants to ensure that nobody is discouraged from representing their local community as a local councillor and therefore intends to introduce this new exemption so that in the future, travel expenses paid to local councillors, including those to cover the costs of journeys to their council offices, are not subject to income tax or NICs.

    11.18am BST

    Lord Aschcroft has published a new marginal seats poll. It covers 14 of the 26 marginal seats that he covered in a poll published in May.

    In a post for ConservativeHome, he summarises the key findings. Here's an extract.

    The most striking feature is that rising support for UKIP has eroded the swing to Labour. Though the Tories are down a point on their share in March and April in these seats, Labour are down by three points and UKIP are up five.

    There are three points worth noting about this. First, the most immediately striking effect of this shift is that UKIP now lead in two seats Thurrock and Thanet South. They have also jumped to second in Great Yarmouth, where the Tories are now ahead, having been behind Labour in my previous round of polling.

    11.00am BST

    Theresa May, the home secretary, has confirmed that there will be a full public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer who died in London after drinking after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 with two ex-colleagues at a London hotel in 2006.

    It will be chaired by Sir Robert Owen, the judge who had been conducted the inquest into Litvinenko's death. That inquest has now been suspended.

    It is more than seven years since Mr. Litvinenkos death, and I very much hope that this inquiry will be of some comfort to his widow Mrs. Litvinenko.

    10.39am BST

    Unison has announced that it is going to ballot its NHS staff members over strike action. This is from Christina McAnea, Unison's head of health.

    Balloting for strike action is not an easy decision - especially in the NHS. But this government is showing complete contempt for NHS workers.

    It has swept aside the pay review body's recommendations and ignored the union's call for a fair deal. Our members are angry at the way they are being treated and we are left with little choice but to ballot for action.

    10.24am BST

    On a day like today (it's glorious in London) it's easy to forget that we're often at the mercy of terrible weather. But that is one of the concusions of a report published today by Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, looking at whether the transport system is prepared for bad weather conditions.

    The report (pdf) concludes that, although the system responded reasonably well to to the winter storms, more needs to be done. Here's an extract.

    Whilst it is difficult to attribute any one of these episodes of extreme weather to climate change, the consensus view among the scientific community, as provided by the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that we will see an increasing incidence of extreme weather events in the future because of climate change.

    It is therefore important that we plan for this and ensure that our transport networks are as well prepared as they can be to minimise the impact of extreme weather events. The principal weather events we need to plan for are more rainfall over sustained periods in winters, more intense localised rain storms particularly in the summer, albeit summers on average will be drier and hotter overall with higher peak temperatures, and more severe storms, against a background of rising sea levels.

    10.02am BST

    This is what Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, said as he arrived at the EU foreign affairs meeting in Brussels.

    Everybody wants to see a balanced set of measures going forward, but the world has changed since the European Council last week. The events of last Thursday have changed public expectations on us and we have to send a clear signal from our meeting today that we recognise that and that we are going to go further ...

    This meeting today is an opportunity for us to send a very clear signal to Russia. Were obviously pleased that there is movement now on repatriating the victims; were pleased that there is some access being granted to the site. But we mustnt forget the overall context: This terrible incident happened in the first place because of Russias support to the separatists in eastern Ukraine, because of the flow of heavy weapons from Russia into eastern Ukraine. We have to address that issue today and I shall be urging my colleagues and our partners to send a very clear and strong signal to Russia today.

    9.50am BST

    For the record, here are today's YouGov GB polling figures.

    Labour: 38% (up 1 point from YouGov in the Sunday Times)

    9.12am BST

    It's the last day that the Commons is sitting before the summer recess and, as usual, that means that we're get a host of announcements that ministers need to present to parliaments while they've got the chance. As you can see from the order paper (pdf), there are 31 written ministerial statements coming.

    We've also got an oral statement from Nicky Morgan, the new education secretary, about the Peter Clarke inquiry into the Birmingham "Trojan horse" affair. My colleague Patrick Wintour revealed the contents of the draft report last week. I'll be covering the statement in detail.

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