Monday, October 22, 2018
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Brexit: Second referendum campaign to be launched, George Soros announces

A campaign to secure a second Brexit referendum is to be launched in days, the billionaire George Soros has announced.

The financier, in a keynote speech, has said the prospect of the UK’s prolonged divorce from Brussels could help persuade the British public by a “convincing margin” that EU membership was in their interests.

Mr Soros is reported to have given about £500,000 to Best for Britain, which was set up last year by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller.

The group is expected to publish its campaign manifesto on 8 June, calling for a second referendum.

Speaking in Paris, the 87-year-old said: “Brexit is an immensely damaging process, harmful to both sides.

“Divorce will be a long process, probably taking more than five years. Five years is an eternity in politics, especially in revolutionary times like the present.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the British people to decide what they want to do. It would be better, however, if they came to a decision sooner rather than later. That’s the goal of an initiative called the Best for Britain, which I support.

“Best for Britain fought for, and helped to win, a meaningful parliamentary vote which includes the option of not leaving at all. This would be good for Britain but would also render Europe a great service by rescinding Brexit and not creating a hard-to-fill hole in the European budget.

“But the British public must express its support by a convincing margin in order to be taken seriously by Europe. That’s what Best for Britain is aiming for by engaging the electorate. It will publish its manifesto in the next few days.”

Mr Soros said he feared the EU could be heading towards another major financial crisis triggered by austerity and populist political parties intent on blowing the bloc apart.

“The EU is in an existential crisis. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong,” he said.

However, Mr Soros said he was convinced it was the ideal time for the EU to reform itself and prepare the ground for the UK staying inside the bloc.

“The economic case for remaining a member of the EU is strong, but it will take time for it to sink in,” he added.

“During that time the EU needs to transform itself into an association that countries like Britain would want to join, in order to strengthen the political case.

“Such a Europe would differ from the current arrangements in two key respects. First, it would clearly distinguish between the European Union and the eurozone.

“Second, it would recognise that the euro has many unresolved problems and they must not be allowed to destroy the European Union.”

Theresa May is committed to leaving the EU’s single market and customs union after Brexit, which officially takes place on 29 March next year, although a transition period is currently set to last until 31 December 2020.

PA

Palestinians ask ICC to consider Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity

A Palestinian delegation has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch an investigation into what it says is “insurmountable” evidence of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki asked international prosecutors in The Hague on Tuesday for a referral on the back of an initial preliminary investigation launched in 2015.

If the request is granted, investigators could begin a full inquiry without first waiting for a judge’s approval.

“Through judicial referral we want … the office of the prosecutor to open without delay an investigation into all crimes,” Mr Maliki told media after a meeting with the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

“Further delaying justice for Palestinian victims is also tantamount to denial of justice.”

The ICC recognised the state of Palestine in 2015, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed there since 13 June 2014.

Israel is not one of the 123 countries currently party to the ICC, but it is possible Israeli citizens and institutions could be prosecuted for alleged crimes on Palestinian land.

Palestinian petitions to the ICC to date have focused on cases related to 2014’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in the Gaza Strip – which killed 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children – and Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The request to expedite a formal investigation comes after 60 Palestinians were killed during protests on the Gaza-Israel border last week – the worst violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 war.

Israeli troops were ordered to use live fire if necessary on the 40,000 people who demonstrated against both the US’s embassy move to Jerusalem and the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, on 15 May – the Palestinian anniversary of Israel’s founding. 

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said the protests were being used by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas as cover for attacks on Israel.

The incident has been met with international condemnation. South Africa and Turkey both withdrew their ambassadors to Israel and the United Nations has launched an inquiry into what it said was a “wholly disproportionate” use of force.

At least 112 Palestinians have died and more than 13,000 have been wounded in protests over the past two months in the buildup to the Nakba and US embassy move. Last Friday saw continued demonstrations. 

The willingness of Gazans to throw themselves into harm’s way betrays the desperation of the strip’s two million residents after almost 11 years of a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

The Trump administration’s steadfast friendship with Israel and the stalling of peace talks since 2014 are also fuelling growing Palestinian disillusionment with the peace process.

The Palestinian Authority officially cut relations with the US after President Donald Trump announced his country would recognise the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, declaring Washington was no longer an “honest broker” for peace.

In recent years Palestinian officials have begun to explore other avenues that might result in international recognition of Palestinian statehood, such as with the ICC and Unesco, the UN’s world heritage body.

A statement from the Israeli foreign ministry said that the Palestinian request to the ICC was a “cynical step” without legal validity.    

“The ICC lacks jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian issue, since Israel is not a member of the court and because the Palestinian Authority is not a state,” it said.

The ICC, which opened in 2002, was designed as a court of “last resort”. It is only supposed to step in when a state is unwilling or unable to investigate crimes on its territory.

Trump steps up attacks on FBI over ‘spy’ claims as he fights back against Mueller investigation

Donald Trump has escalated his attacks on the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference into the US presidential election, and the president’s evident frustration with the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller is beginning to have an effect.

Reports surfaced of an FBI informant being in contact with several Trump campaign officials in 2016, and Mr Trump has seized on the reports to claim, without providing evidence, that the FBI planted a spy within his campaign. He issued several calls for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate.

In a fresh morning salvo via Twitter, Mr Trump – who is no stranger to hyperbole – said what he called “SPYGATE” could be “one of the biggest political scandals in history”.

The president has consistently labelled Mr Mueller’s investigation – which is also looking into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia – as a “witch hunt”, insisting there was “no collusion”.

Such pressure seems to have finally had an impact, with a meeting to be held at the White House on Thursday between top government officials and two Republican legislators to allow members of Congress to review classified information relating to the spying claims. No Democrats have been invited to the meeting.

With the DoJ having asked the inspector general to widen an already open investigation into the conduct of the FBI in order to include the spy claims, Mr Trump suggested the tables had now been turned on those investigating his campaign, writing: ”What goes around, comes around!”

In his number of tweets, Mr Trump referred to those investigating him as the “Criminal Deep State,” a term that has become popular with Mr Trump and his supporters to describe long-serving unelected officials whom they claim are out to undermine his presidency.

Mr Trump also quoted Andrew Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, saying, “It’s clear that they had eyes and ears all over the Trump Campaign.”

Mr Napolitano is a frequent contributor to Fox News, a channel the president watches regularly, and had in fact appeared on the programme Fox & Friends earlier on Wednesday morning.

According to reports, the FBI source Mr Trump is referring to is Stefan Halper, a former University of Cambridge professor and long-time Republican. There has been no evidence yet to suggest that a source had been inserted into the Trump campaign, but it is believed that Mr Halper did have contact with at least three campaign advisers.

In an interview on Tuesday, former director of the national intelligence James Clapper said that the FBI had never spied on the Trump campaign.

“They were not,” he said during an appearance on ABC’s The View  to promote a new book. “They were spying – a term I don’t particularly like – on what the Russians were doing,” Mr Clapper added.

The FBI, according to Mr Clapper, were trying to answer the question, “Were the Russians infiltrating [the campaign], trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence?”

He was backed-up by former FBI director James Comey, who was originally in charge of the investigation into Russian interference until he was fired by Mr Trump last May.

The now-frequent critic of the president tweeted: “Facts matter. The FBI’s use of Confidential Human Sources (the actual term) is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren?”

During his morning string of tweets, Mr Trump hit back at Mr Clapper’s comments, including that the president should have been grateful for the FBI doing its job.

“No, James R Clapper Jr, I am not happy,” Mr Trump wrote. “Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!”

Outside the White House later, Mr Trump spoke about Thursday’s meetings. “When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen, ” Mr Trump claimed. “I hope it’s not so, because if it is, there’s never been anything like it in the history of our country… But I hope it’s not true, but it looks like it is.”

Also on Wednesday, Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort asked a federal judge to suppress evidence seized by FBI agents working with Mr Mueller as part of the case against him, saying the raids violated the US Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Mr Manafort faces charges including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the US and failing to register as a foreign agent. The charges relate to lobbying work Mr Manafort carried out for a pro-Russian former Ukrainian president before serving as Mr Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016. He has pleaded not guilty.

Mr Trump and his supporters have suggested that the case against Mr Manafort shows that Mr Mueller is overreaching in his Russia investigation. The hearing before US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson marks Mr Manafort’s latest bid to hinder the criminal case against him, though last week Judge Jackson refused to dismiss the charges.

At the hearing in Washington, Mr Manafort’s lawyers told Judge Jackson that FBI agents unlawfully conducted an initial warrantless search of a storage locker housing documents from his consulting company by improperly getting a low-level staffer to unlock it and let a special agent look around.

They also plan to challenge the legality of an FBI raid on Mr Manafort’s Virginia home, saying agents conducted an overly broad search by seizing “every electronic and media device” there.

Mr Mueller’s office has defended the legality of the FBI raids, saying that the agents had secured written consent from the storage unit’s lease-holder and that the warrant used to search Mr Manafort’s home was not overly broad.

Reuters contributed to this report

Fox News: How the right-wing network became one of America’s most influential political voices

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has grown steadily to become one of the most influential right-wing media voices in the US since it first aired on 7 October 1996.

Known for its unabashed Republican bias, pro-Donald Trump rhetoric, blurring of fact and opinion, flashy graphics and pairing of stentorian middle-aged men with steely blondes, the channel caters expertly to white Middle America’s anxieties and grievances about the state of the nation.

The network recently altered its slogan to “Real news. Real honest opinion”, replacing “Fair and balanced”, an implicit criticism of its rivals it was having increasing trouble living up to.

Fox News’ origins can be traced back to the mid-1980s, when the Australian-American media tycoon bought his stake in 20th Century Fox and a portfolio of six Metromedia local television stations broadcasting to America’s 10 biggest markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Dallas.

Uniting his assets under a new network, the Fox Broadcasting Company, Mr Murdoch’s stations initially paid out for CNN’s news feed at considerable expense.

One of its earliest original prime-time successes was the syndicated tabloid gossip show A Current Affair fronted by, among others, Steve Dunleavy, who presented himself as a hard-boiled newsman in a trenchcoat and helped set the mould for future silver Foxes like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

By 1992, Mr Murdoch had decided his stations should broadcast their own news and flew in Andrew Neil, the editor of his Sunday Times and chairman of Sky TV, to mastermind what would become Fox News. Acquiring the rights to the NFL in 1993, the mogul envisioned an hour-long news programme to follow its coverage and take on rival CBS’s 60 Minutes.

It was at this point that Mr Murdoch drafted in political consultant and CNBC president Roger Ailes to run the show.

Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson summarises Ailes’ early achievements as a Republican fixer as follows: “[He] repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan’s budding Alzheimer’s in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George HW Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail health care reform in 1993.”

“The Chairman”, who died in 2017 not long after being run out of the company after a slew of sexual misconduct allegations were made against him, served as CEO of Fox News from its inception in 1996 and as chairman, having ousted Mr Murdoch’s own son Lachlan, from 2005.

A Hitchcockian figure likened to a cross between “Don Rickles and Don Corleone” by one former deputy, Ailes is credited with conceiving Fox’s populist approach, appealing directly to the conservative Everyman.

Fox News made its intentions clear from the get-go, its anchors interviewing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole on its first day of broadcasting.

Fox had arrived on the scene just in time to join the emerging 24-hour rolling news cycle and make hay from Monica Lewinsky and the Bill Clinton impeachment. “Monica was a news channel’s dream come true,” executive John Moody would later reflect. “Their dream was my nightmare,” she countered in a New York Times editorial last year. “My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings.”

Under Alies’ guidance, Fox also used bolshy opinion shows to create compelling, urgent TV, typically centred around its star signings like The O’Reilly Factor, The Crier Report hosted by Catherine Crier and Hannity & Colmes, hosted by its longest-lasting big beast and token liberal Alan Colmes.

O’Reilly, Hannity and opinion editor Bill Shine formed a trio of tough Irish-American Catholics who together shaped the tone for which Fox has become known and which was so superbly sent up by Stephen Colbert in Republican hawk mode: pugnacious, patriotic and scornful of lily-livered Democrats.

In 2000, Fox News flexed its muscles for the first time by playing a huge role in the election of George W Bush. While the Republican candidate also had the crucial backing of other all-important right-wing influencers like the National Rifle Association, one study by the University of California found that he enjoyed an average boost of 200,000 votes in areas where voters had access to its programming.

The horror of 9/11 saw Fox News secure a huge ratings hike and innovate by introducing the news ticker running along the bottom of the screen to keep up with the flow of breaking developments and new information as the day unfolded – a device that has now become a staple of rolling TV news. The subsequent Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and Boston Marathon bombing all likewise saw a marked up-tick in audience figures, indicating an American surge to the right in times of national crisis.

Fox’s relentless spinning against the Obama administration by the likes of Hannity and Glenn Beck led the then president to shun the network entirely and sparked a war of words with his fiery press secretary, Rahm Emmanuel. Senior counsel David Axelrod met privately with Ailes to discuss what could be done to soothe relations.

This was a moment that saw Fox News inspire the Tea Party grassroots movement and in which one poll concluded its audience was the least well-informed in the country. In 2011, Fox viewers were 12 per cent more likely to believe that a federal stimulus package would mean job losses, 17 per cent more likely to believe that Muslims wanted to establish the rule of Shariah law in the US, 30 per cent more likely to think scientists disputed global warming and 31 more likely to believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Under President Trump, Fox News is having a field day. The billionaire businessman adores its morning show, Fox & Friends, so much that many are worried about its influence on his decision-making. He memorably called in on his wife Melania’s birthday to give an interview so rambling its hosts appeared visibly uncomfortable and is said to speak with Hannity on a nightly basis. In return, Fox has regularly called for FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating the president’s ties to Russian election meddling, to be sacked.

The network has been heavily criticised for the apparent hypocrisy of its coverage of the sexual harassment scandals enveloping high-profile celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK and others given the alleged indiscretions of Ailes, O’Reilly, Eric Bolling and other senior executives within its ranks. Hannity controversially contested the allegations against defeated Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore while Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham challenged The Washington Post on its coverage of the same scandal.

Ingraham also caused offence and was boycotted by 27 sponsors after attacking David Hogg, 17, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, when he campaigned for tighter gun control legislation.

Anchor Shepard Smith meanwhile angered his own side and risked alienating viewers by debunking a report on a uranium “scandal” the network was determined to tie to Hillary Clinton.

Fox News nevertheless goes from strength to strength and is about to launch a new streaming service.

David Folkenflik neatly outlines the network’s influence in his book Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Great Media Empires (2013): “No other news organisation has done more in recent years to reshape [the] terrain than Fox. Just about every news organisation either mimics or reacts against the way Fox presents the news and the values it represents.”

A new movie about Ailes’ rise and fall, directed by Jay Roach and featuring Charlize Theron as anchor Megyn Kelly, appears to be the only dark cloud on the horizon of an agenda-setting news network Tim Dickinson has ominously described as “one of the most powerful political machines in American history”.

Japan slaughters 122 pregnant whales for ‘scientific research’

More than 120 pregnant females were among hundreds of whales slaughtered in Japan’s latest hunt in the Antarctic, prompting condemnation and calls for international action.

A total of 333 minke whales were killed as part of the country’s so-called “scientific” whaling programme, which carries out an annual summer hunt in the Southern Ocean.

Among those slaughtered, 122 were pregnant and another 114 were juveniles, according to documents from a meeting of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) scientific committee this month.

Japan has signed the commission’s moratorium on whale hunting, but Tokyo exploits a loophole each year by saying its hunt is conducted for scientific research.

Critics say the research is actually a cover for commercial whaling, as the meat from the harpooned mammals is later sold to be eaten.

“The killing of 122 pregnant whales is a shocking statistic and sad indictment on the cruelty of Japan’s whale hunt,” said Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at Humane Society International.

“It is further demonstration, if needed, of the truly gruesome and unnecessary nature of whaling operations, especially when non-lethal surveys have been shown to be sufficient for scientific needs,” she added.

Two Japanese vessels were involved in last summer’s hunt, which targeted the whales using harpoons loaded with a 30g penthrite grenade. 

The slaughtered animals were taken on board the boats, where researchers took measurements and collected data on their blubber and stomach contents, according to the IWC papers.

Japan’s fisheries agency collects the data and reports the findings to the commission. It says the programme is carried out in accordance with the International Convention for Regulation of Whaling.

“Whales are already facing substantial threats including bycatch in fisheries and marine pollution,” Ms Wellbelove said. ”Significant conservation efforts are underway worldwide to address these issues, so the least Japan could do is put away the harpoons.

“The continued killing of any whales is abhorrent to modern society, but these new figures make it even more shocking. We look forward to Australia and other pro-conservation countries sending the strongest possible message to Japan that it should stop its lethal whaling programme.”

Are you being ripped off by the gig economy?

Almost three million people have worked in the gig economy in the last 12 months, according to official figures, where, traditionally, there has been a trade off.

Self-employed workers earned a higher hourly or day rate than staff, to offset the lack of employee benefits such as pension contributions, paid leave and time off sick, as they would need to fund such downtime and extras themselves. Freelance workers took extra risk and, for many, their pay reflected that.

Fast forward to 2018 when the gig economy is rocketing in size and scope, and there appears to be no such relationship between risk and reward.

A government report into the gig economy has revealed that one in four of the workers it surveyed were earning less than £7.50 an hour. The national living wage – the minimum an employee aged over 25 can earn – is £7.83 an hour.

So how much should independent workers be charging?

Fair and comparative

The website WhatIsMyDayRate.com tries to make this simple for freelancers by highlighting what their day rate needs to be to achieve their desired annual salary. For people moving from salaried work to freelance work, setting a day rate can be a real challenge.

For example, if you have a target annual income of £30,000 then it might be tempting to set your day rate at £30,000/365 – or perhaps you might work out a more complicated sum factoring in weekends and how much holiday you plan to take.

Yet the website reveals that freelance workers would need to earn £39,000 a year in order to make up for the benefits an employee earning £30,000 would make – including 20 per cent of that salary in healthcare, pension contributions and more.

What’s more, you need to factor in unpaid sick days, unpaid public holidays and the 20 per cent of time that a typical freelancer spends on non-billable work.

You end up needing to earn £39,000 over 181 days, meaning a day rate of £215.71. If you had simply said you intend to work 5 days a week for 48 weeks a year then you would probably have set your day rate at £125 in an attempt to earn £30,000. It would have fallen short.

Workers in the gig economy need to protect themselves by charging a fair fee for their work, but with more people than ever searching for flexible hours and the opportunity to manage their own work, it can be hard not to end up in a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions.

Alan Price, employment law director at Peninsula, says: “Financial incentives used to be the case for freelancers, however, the significant rise in online and technology platforms offering one-off ‘gigs’ in exchange for pay has led to an increase in workers available to undertake this work, resulting in lower pay.”

Millennials and anyone working in the gig economy need to have a clearer idea of their rights and value. So what rights do they have?

Complex legalities

For employers, this growing army of skilled, flexible workers makes it easy to get work done without the responsibility of taking on employees. Research from Deloitte shows that 75 per cent of UK business leaders say there is a significant number of contractors in their workforces; 46 per cent say they have a significant number of freelancers and 12 per cent report a significant number of gig workers.

Anne-Marie Malley, UK human capital leader at Deloitte, says: “The breadth of worker contracts available today offers employers huge potential to equip their business with a flexible, diverse and uniquely skilled workforce. However, most of these workers are being treated as unskilled labour, not as professionals.”

Yet if gig economy workers were given more rights and better working conditions, their work status could be affected, causing both them and their clients difficulties.

Julia Kermode is chief executive of The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA). She explains: “For the majority of independent workers it is an informed choice and they value the flexibility that being self-employed offers. 

“If their engagers provide them with benefits and rights that blur the boundaries of their employment status, then the workers become more akin to an employee and they would lose their flexibility which the majority would not want.”

“A lack of protection is part and parcel of their employment status.”

Of course, that lack of protection is only acceptable if workers have a real choice about whether to apply for roles as employees or go it alone as contract, freelance and gig workers.

Helen Hughes, employment law specialist at the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, says: “There is an astonishing lack of clarity in the employment laws intended to protect workers. Many employers rely on flexible workers to cover for sickness or seasonal peaks in demand.

“In order to achieve this however, some have been wrongly labelling these flexible workers as ‘self-employed’, denying them basic employment rights such as holiday entitlement and sick pay.”

Of course, when it comes to employment rights, what matters is not whether the worker is labelled as freelance but rather the nature of their work and conditions.

Peninsula’s Price adds: “Whilst many gig employers will label their workforce as a particular status, eg self-employed independent contractors, what matters is how the relationship works in reality, not what label is placed on the individual.

“In most gig companies as there is control over the individual and they are required to carry out the ‘gig’ themselves, the individual will usually fall within the category of ‘worker’.

“This means they are entitled to employment rights including statutory minimum wage, holiday pay, and minimum rest breaks.”

Financial exclusion

Independent workers can also find themselves at a significant disadvantage when it comes to accessing financial products as well. Michelle Wright, founder of social enterprise champion Cause4, says that the working world has changed but the country is still playing catch-up.

“We need to put our insurers, banks and pension providers under pressure to provide products that can service this new community of flexible workers, and also give employers wanting to embrace this new culture a range of services to support their temporary employees.

“One of the big concerns for workers on zero-hours contracts is institutional bias around perceived financial insecurity. Even getting mobile phone contracts can be problematic, never mind a mortgage.”

As well as often finding themselves disqualified from common financial products, research from LV= shows that around two million self-employed workers can’t afford to save anything each month, while a further one in 10 save less than £50 each month.

Legal catch-up

The government is aware of the challenges facing the independent workforce in this country. It responded to last year’s independent Taylor Review into modern working practices by promising to strengthen the rights of flexible workers, including those on zero-hour contracts and working within the gig economy.

Improving rights would be welcome, but some commentators have expressed fears that to do so might damage the flexibility that so many workers value.

Natanje Holt, retirement specialist at the technology provider Bravura Solutions, says the answer might lie in defining a new type of worker: “It’s also important that as we seek to protect gig and self-employed workers, this does not come at the expense of their freedom and flexibility.

“We are already seeing a shift in people wanting greater autonomy over their lives, with entrepreneurship and freedom being prioritised. Striking the right balance around this though may prove difficult.”

Paul Ryman, senior associate in the employment team at commercial law firm Brabners, warns that any work the government does undertake must be future-proofed to protect workers in a rapidly changing working world.

He says: “The challenge we face now is that technology is outpacing legislation. The types of businesses that are currently at the forefront of the gig economy debate did not exist five to 10 years ago and, to some extent, the law is still playing catch up. What’s needed is a more solid clarification of what ‘worker status’ means in practice.

“Yes, it’s positive to see that the government is taking action to address the concerns raised by the Taylor Review. The new draft Employment Bill that is currently before Parliament takes on most of its recommendations. In sectors like technology and e-commerce that move so quickly, it’s a challenge to ensure that any new laws aren’t already out of date by the time they are passed.

“Whereas the law in this area has evolved piecemeal, it is now time for the law makers to be proactive and consider how emerging technology will impact employment and workers’ rights in the future.”

To Philip Roth, writing was as natural as breathing

He wrote standing up. He paced around as he thought. He once said he walked half a mile for every page he wrote. And with Roth’s astonishing body of work, that’s a lot of walking.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of more than 30 books combined energy, athleticism and intellect in a way few if any other authors have. His fiction chronicled America, particularly Jewish America. He didn’t always like being so described, feeling it was an appreciation that was limiting. But no one did it better. 

While appreciations must rightly concentrate on his prose, his leaping imagination, and the extraordinary prescience of his novels be it in matters of politics or race, the personal too cannot be ignored. 

His second wife, the actress Claire Bloom, wrote fulsomely in her autobiography of their first meeting: “Tanned, tall and lean, he was unusually handsome; he also seemed to be well aware of his startling effect on women.”

She wrote less fulsomely of his decision that he would not share a home with Bloom’s daughter, his “mixture of kindness and cruelty, generosity and selfishness” and how that tanned attractive face was to become “feral, unflinching, hostile, accusative”.

She described him as depressed and verbally abusive, adding that he had insisted on a prenuptial agreement, saying he could terminate the marriage at will with no further responsibility to his wife and all possessions would revert back to him. Bloom’s divorce lawyer told her was the most brutal document of its kind he had ever encountered.

But, separate the art and the artist (if one’s still allowed to). The art came to international attention in 1969 with Portnoy’s Complaint. It may be a slightly exaggerated view of recent history to maintain, as many do now, that it scandalised America with its concentration on sex, largely as comedy, and a young hero with a penchant for (graphically described) masturbation.

Open discussion of sex was not exactly unknown in the late Sixties, nor had it been unknown in literature. Nevertheless, Roth himself remarked that it had helped give him a “reputation as a crazed penis”.

More probably it scandalised Jewish America, and certainly the rabbis who had denounced his earlier story Goodbye Columbus as the work of “a self-hating Jew”.

But Roth, who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, was right that seeing him in any way as the voice of one community was absurdly limiting. What he brought to the art form from his earliest works was literature that explored, with humour and with anxiety, the American psyche.

One must consider too, with some awe, another word that is routinely used about Roth: his prescience. The Plot against America imagined that a huge, wealthy, right-wing celebrity, the aviator Charles Lindbergh, became president and waged a war against the Jews. A celebrity, with well-defined prejudices, becoming president of the United States! It could never happen in real life, of course.

The writer Al Alvarez, who knew Roth, wrote: “Style, in the formal, flowery sense, bores him; he has, he once wrote, ‘a resistance to plaintive metaphor and poeticised analogy’.

“His prose is immaculate yet curiously plain and unostentatious, as natural as breathing. Reading him, it’s always the story that’s in your face, never the style.”

Indeed, that is what distinguished him from so many of his contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic.

That, and the stories, sometimes dealing with the neuroses and complexities of the modern Jewish-American experience, sometimes with the sexual difficulties of middle age, but more often with a disillusion with the American dream and its fading since the Thirties and Forties: the decades that produced the years of maturity of his parents’ generation.

And, of course, his novels dealt with the existential difficulties of life itself. They were told through a comic lens, mixed with searing pain. His literary device of recurring narrators and alter egos, even on occasion named Philip Roth, tempted the reader to feel they were getting closer to the author, only to be continually disabused.

Sex continued to be one, though by no means the sole, preoccupation of Roth’s writing. Martin Amis once said he flicked through 1995’s Sabbath’s Theater “looking for the clean bits”.

In fact the book was more a raging against death, subject matter that probably concerned him from his fifties onwards. The book can be singled out for its memorable final words: “How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here.”

1997’s American Pastoral, thought by many to be his greatest book, concerns a Newark businessman and athlete whose life is destroyed when his teenage daughter becomes a terrorist. The book turns into an elegy for those disappearing dreams of civic order and domestic happiness.

But, for me, 2000’s The Human Stain, with one of the greatest twists in the literary canon, exploring race and the state of America as it approached a new millennium, has few challengers.

Anticipating the political correctness and new puritanism which would take no prisoners, Roth writes of a university professor whose career is ended and life destroyed when he is wrongly accused of racism. It is played out to the background of an America in a rage of prurience over revelations about President Clinton. It’s a wondrous mix of tension, comedy, suspense, shock and insight into social mores that were in a frenzy of confusion.

After more than 50 years as a writer, Roth decided that 2010’s Nemesis, the story of a polio epidemic in the Newark, New Jersey neighbourhood where he grew up, would be his last novel. 

In one of his final interviews, just this year with The New York Times, Roth reflected on his 50-plus years as a writer, describing it as: “Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through.”

Certainly, for the reader the work blazed, both illuminating and casting a dark shadow over life in the second half of the 20th century and beyond, making its author not just the greatest chronicler of American life through his fiction, but one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century.

David Lister is the former arts editor of The Independent

Uber and Lyft subpoenaed for employment records after landmark gig economy ruling

San Francisco’s city attorney has demanded that Uber and Lyft turn over employment records after a California high court ruling that could reshape the gig economy.

Technology firms that allow people to perform discrete tasks for money – like driving passengers to their destination – typically classify those workers as independent contractors, rather than full-time employees, a designation that means they are not entitled to wage and benefit guarantees. 

The California Supreme Court recently threw that business model into doubt by ruling that companies must meet a series of conditions to prove workers should be independent contractors. If they cannot, the court ruled, those companies have to comply with California wage orders.

San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera referenced that decision in announcing he was subpoenaing Lyft and Uber to see how they classify their drivers and to obtain data on pay and benefits. If those drivers should in fact be considered employees, the ride-for-hire firms would owe them minimum wage along with sick days, paid parental leave and health benefits, Mr Herrera said.

“San Francisco’s laws help ensure that employers provide a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” Mr Herrera said in a statement. “Our laws also guarantee employees basic humane benefits like sick leave, health care, and paid parental leave. We are not going to turn a blind eye if companies in San Francisco deny workers their pay and benefits”.

A representative of Uber declined to comment. A Lyft spokesman said the company has a “long track record of working collaboratively with policymakers, including the SF City Attorney, on important issues”. 

“We look forward to helping the City Attorney’s office fully understand Lyft’s business model, including our relationship with drivers”, Adrian Durbin said.

As the task-based gig economy has grown in recent years, spurred by the rapid expansion of the ride-for-hire model championed by Uber and Lyft, so too have questions about the nature of modern work.

Executives at companies like Uber and Lyft argue that the work’s appeal derives in large part from its flexibility, which allows people to earn money in their spare time or earn supplemental wages without having to hew to a riding schedule.

But labour advocates and their political allies are increasingly warning that the gig economy model deprives workers of durable employment and forces society to absorb the cost of that instability.

“We are not going to tolerate any company shirking its responsibility to pay for benefits and shifting that burden onto taxpayers when drivers without health insurance turn to the emergency room”, Mr Herrera said.

Last week Uber announced it would extend health insurance across Europe and offer one-time payments to defray the cost of having children.

Efforts to form gig workers into unions have produced mixed results. While a court ruled last year that Seattle-area Uber and Lyft drivers had the right to unionise despite being classified as independent contractors, a California appeals court this month ruled against a labour Seattle law that spurred the legal challenge.

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Is it ever OK to ask someone when they are due?

Let’s address “when’s it due?”. It’s a tricky question if you know for sure that your interlocutor is pregnant. If you don’t, it’s potentially disastrous. 

The first time someone asked me a similar question, I was a 19-year-old student. I was standing in the queue at McDonald’s. In front of me was a woman with her child. The little boy, who must have been about five, was bored and restless. He jumped from foot to foot. He swung from his mother’s arm. He twirled around and caught my eye. Then he hopped forward, patted me on the stomach and asked: “When are you having yours?”

Aged 19, I was built like Olive Oyl. Sideways on I looked like a golf club. So I laughed. The boy laughed. Yet his mother, who was heavily pregnant herself, apologised so profusely I worried she might go into labour. Because she knew (as I too know now that I’m twice the woman I used to be) that asking “when’s it due” if nothing’s actually cooking will more than likely be heard as “hey, fatso”.

The next time I was asked – 15 years later, while wearing a dress that was a little too tight around the midriff – that’s exactly how I heard it. I threw the dress away as soon as I got home and spent the next three days eating nothing but carrots.

So just don’t ask, right? If there’s any room for doubt or you don’t even know the woman standing in front of you, it isn’t worth the risk. In the tradition of no good deed going unpunished, even offering someone a seat on the tube because you think they might be “with child” can be fraught. A friend asking a woman if she wanted to sit down was rewarded with angry tears. “Do I really look pregnant to you?”

Yet there are some instances where it’s just as risky not to mention the elephant in the room.

Let’s say you’re talking to someone you do know in passing. Maybe you work together. Maybe you go to the same gym. You’ve previously shared conversations about traffic, the weather and the royal wedding. You know they’re pregnant. At least, someone you trust told you they’re pregnant. They look a bit pregnant. What now? Do you wait until they bring it up? They’re resting their teacup on the bump and looking beatific. Not asking how their pregnancy is going might make it seem as though you don’t care, as though you’re just not interested in what’s possibly the biggest thing that’s happened in their life so far. But…

There’s still so much potential for getting it wrong.

Nigel, a sensitive and thoughtful man with whom I used to volunteer, described the problem. 

“I had a friend called Sheila. I wasn’t supposed to know she was pregnant but her mother-in-law let slip. Sheila was very conscious of her weight so I decided the only thing to do was avoid her.”

Why? 

“If I’d asked ‘when’s it due?’ she’d have asked if I was saying she looked fat. On the other hand, if I said nothing, she might have responded, ‘Well, aren’t you going to ask about the baby? Or do you think I always look this big’?” I stayed out of her way for six months. Talking about pregnancy is a nightmare.”

Another friend walked straight into the nightmare with predictably awful results. “I knew through the grapevine that a colleague I saw only occasionally was having a baby, so when I found myself standing next to her in the coffee queue at the ATM and we’d exhausted all the usual talk about holidays, I risked it. ‘When’s the baby due?’ I asked. She told me she’d had it a month before.”

My friend did the only thing he could. He left the company and moved to the Philippines.

In his mitigation, I’d like to blame the forces that have the poor Duchess of Cambridge jumping out of bed moments after labour, for making it seem as though a woman should stop looking pregnant (and have immaculate hair) seconds after the baby is out. Baby weight? What baby weight? And then again there are some women who never actually look pregnant at all. The phenomenon known as cryptic pregnancy, in which the expectant mother doesn’t have a clue she’s up the duff, is thought to affect as many as one in 2500. No wonder we’re confused.

Bumps make for a minefield.

But let’s say you are pregnant and it’s not a food baby. Congratulations. You’re breeding. You’re now officially exempt from people making those assumptions about your sexuality, personality and general lack of humanity that go with being conspicuously child-free. But don’t get too comfortable. Apparently, it’s about to get worse.

The number one most hated question reported by the pregnant women of my acquaintance is: can I touch your bump?

Apparently it’s not just relatives and friends who want to feel the baby kick. An alarming number of expectant mothers have experienced the bizarre phenomenon of complete strangers reaching out to touch their stomachs in the street, at the bus stop or even in the boardroom. 

Personally, I’ve never felt the urge to pat a pregnant stomach, but then I have an irrational fear of balloons. But there are people who feel no such qualm. Perhaps they think that rubbing a bump is lucky? Like rubbing the rounded belly of a statue of Ganesh? I have an idea how frustrating that might be. I once placed a bet on thirteen at a roulette table and my number came up twice in a row. Suddenly, I was flanked by two random punters, eager to rub up against me. So may I suggest that a good answer to “Can I pat your bump?” might be: “Only if you’re offering an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas?” Incidentally, despite all that frottage, my number didn’t come up again.

But to recap, it seems you should never ask a woman when her baby is due unless you’re her gynaecologist or you’re pretty sure you’re the baby in question’s father. (Of course if you’re not sure you’re the father, you’ll need a really accurate date.)

Next, never offer a seat to any woman on the tube unless she’s obviously over 80 or she’s actually wearing one of those “I’m pregnant. Get the hell out of my way” badges. Useful things, those.

Finally, never, ever, ever ask if you can pat a stranger’s bump.

My cousin Nicole told me: “I hated non-family members touching my baby bump. How dare they! I felt like doing it to them but that would have been even more weird.”

To which my Facebook friend Lana responded: “I actually did this once when a strange man touched my belly in the shopping centre. I was so angry I reached out and grabbed his beer gut. He jumped about a mile.”

I wish she’d also asked him, “And when’s yours due?”

Christine Manby has written numerous novels including ‘The Worst Case Scenario Cookery Club’

PUBG developer admits problems with game and vows to fix it, as Fortnite popularity continues to grow

The developers of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds have “fallen short”, they have admitted.

The frank admission of the game’s problems comes as the battle royale genre comes to be dominated by rival game Fortnite. That game has quickly become the most popular in the world, while PUBG has been plagued by player complaints about performance and communication.

Now the team behind the game have recognised those problems and promised to fix them.

“Although we’ve made some meaningful improvements to PUBG, we’ve fallen short in other ways,” the team wrote in what it said was the first of many ‘developer letters’ from the team to fans. “Players have rightfully called us out for failing to address complaints about performance, and recently we haven’t done the best job of communicating about the changes we’re making to the game.”

Those changes will primarily revolve around cheating and performance issues, the team said.

It will also change the way those fixes are sent out to players. At the moment, updates arrive with each major version of the game – but from now, fixes and upgrades will be passed to users as soon as they are ready.

The performance changes being promised are vast, but they mostly involve simplifying and speeding up the way the game processes changes. For instance, at the moment when vehicles are driving around they cause a huge amount of alterations to the game’s world, all of which have to be processed by the computers of players, which then slow down.

It will also continue to make changes to keep ridding the game of cheats – a problem so prevalent that it has led to arrests and legal cases. It said that it had banned hundreds of thousands of accounts for cheating and that new changes meant that cheaters were usually banned within hours of starting.

While sharing the new fixes, developers also detailed new updates and features coming to the game. Chief among them is the introduction of the east-Asian themed Sanhok map – which they said will arrive on PC at the end of June.

Most of the new changes detailed by PUBG developers are meant for the PC. Updates have been slower to arrive on other platforms such as the Xbox, which just received a new desert map called Miramar that had been on the PC for some time.

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