The Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN) has announced its second wave of Public Computer Center (PCC) openings on St.…
On Wednesday, June 5, Gov. John deJongh Jr. presented a radio address outlining the economic problems facing the territory and proposing legislation to deal with it.
Fashion designers convicted of evading tax on income of around €1bn but sentence is suspended until end of appeals process
The fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were given a suspended prison sentence of a year and eight months on Wednesday for what prosecutors claimed was a sophisticated system of evading tax on income of around €1bn (£850m).
A court in Milan ruled that the pair had sold their world-famous brands to a Luxembourg-based holding company in 2004 to avoid declaring tax on royalties. They were also slapped with a suspended fine of €500,000 owed to Italy's national tax agency.
The duo, who were not in court for the ruling and made no immediate statement, have always denied any wrongdoing and their lawyers said they would appeal.
Under Italian law, a sentence of this kind is suspended until the conviction is made definitive. Given the length of the appeals process, it is unlikely Dolce or Gabbana will ever see the inside of a jail cell.
A separate charge of misrepresenting income had already passed the statue of limitations.
In her closing speech to the court on Wednesday, prosecutor Laura Pedio said there was "rock-solid proof" that the designers had carried out a sophisticated system of tax evasion, the Ansa news agency reported.
Her colleague Gaetano Ruta said the holding company, Gado – a combination of the two men's surnames – was an artificial construction "whose aim was to get a tax advantage". The prosecutors had asked the court to hand down a sentence of two-and-a-half years, but the judge decided to be more lenient.
Massimo Dinoia, the lawyer for Dolce and Gabbana, had declared the case to be "the paradox of paradoxes" because the amount they were charged with evading "exceeded the income by a large margin".
The conviction marks the latest point in a long and winding path that began in Luxembourg in 2004 and 2005, when Dolce and Gabbana transferred control of their two brands to Gado – a move prosecutors argued was made deliberately in order to evade tax.
In 2008, as the financial crisis was starting to put increasing pressure on state coffers, the Italian authorities began in an investigation into Gado. Italy is estimated to lose €120bn every year in unpaid taxes, much of it though holding companies registered in offshore centres such as Luxembourg.
A case charging the pair with tax fraud and tax evasion was thrown out by a judge two years ago, but Italy's supreme court subsequently ruled in November that the men could be prosecuted, if only for the latter charge.
Dolce and Gabbana's luxury fashion house – officially founded in Milan in 1985, five years after the designers first met – is famous for producing glamorous clothing for celebrities such as Kylie Minogue, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson and Madonna, who celebrated her birthday at their Portofino villa in 2009.
Gabbana, in particular, has been vocal in the insistence of innocence during the long legal battle. When the new trial was ordered last year, he posted a message on Twitter that read: "Everyone knows that we haven't done anything." He has also, in the past, written: "All that I care about is making clothes, that's all. Let them do and say whatever they want … To be accused of something that's not true is not a pretty thing, but the heart of the matter is, who cares, we'll all end up in the ground in the end."
On Wednesday night, however, there was no comment from the designers directly relating to the trial. Soon after the verdict, Gabbana tweeted a close-up photograph of some flowers.Lizzy Davies
Cyprus's government denies trying to wriggle out of its bailout obligations, after EU officials insist it must stick to the agreement made in MarchGraeme Wearden
Fear of global alienation has gone, US president tells Berliners, as he seeks 33% cut in Russian and American nuclear arms
He did not, everyone agreed, have the rhetorical punch of his predecessors. But then again it always was going to be difficult for Barack Obama to live up to the "Ich bin ein Berliner" or "Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall" lines of John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
Yet as the US president admitted himself, after delivering the greeting "Hello Berlin!" – which despite its lack of oratory prowess drew huge cheers from the Berlin crowds at the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday – times have changed.
"We no longer live in fear of global annihilation," the US president said, referring to the era when Berliners "carved out an island of democracy against the greatest of odds" surrounded by the Berlin Wall and in the shadow of the permanent threat posed by the cold war.
But Obama made use of the historical setting to try to conjure the very same sort of shared values that brought western nations together when the iron curtain divided Europe; he announced plans to cut nuclear weapons.
Proposing reductions of a third in US and Russian nuclear warheads, Obama stated: "So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe."
He added: "After a comprehensive review I've determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies – and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent – while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third."
He would seek negotiations with Russia to "move beyond cold war nuclear postures".
In a broad-brush speech, which frequently touched on the topic of freedom and Berliners' resilience, he could not fail to mention the concern felt across Europe about more modern-day encroachments on individual liberty, the recent revelations of internet surveillance and US drone warfare – issues which dominated his 25-hour visit to the German capital.
To defend his position he turned for help from Immanuel Kant, recalling the 18th century German philosopher's belief "in open societies that respect that sanctity of the individual", before stating his own confidence that the US was capable of striking the right balance between security and privacy.
Earlier, alongside the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, he delivered what appeared to be a charm offensive to Europeans, monopolising a large portion of their joint press conference, which also touched on Syria, Guantánamo and the global financial crisis, to address concerns raised by the NSA surveillance scandal.
"This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else," he said. "This is a circumscribed narrow system, directed at us being able to protect our people and all of it is done with the oversight of the courts."
He said at least 50 terrorist threats had been averted because of the intelligence information gathered.
The affair has resonated strongly in Germany, where widespread comparisons have been made with the Gestapo and Stasi, the domestic intelligence operations of both the Nazi and Communist dictatorships.
Merkel, who grew up in the Communist east reacted coolly to Obama's lengthy defence, saying that it was a reflection of German concerns that she and Obama had discussed the issue "at length and in great depth".
She said: "People have concerns precisely about there having possibly been some kind of across-the-board gathering of information. The unanswered questions, and of course there are a few, we will continue to discuss."
Merkel acknowledged that information received by US authorities had helped foil an Islamist terrorist plot in Germany in 2007.Speaking later to the 4,000-strong invitation-only crowd, almost exactly 50 years since John F Kennedy delivered his legendary Berliner speech, Obama won applause after suggesting that the welcome he had received had been so warm and the temperatures so high (in the mid-30s), he would remove his jacket and roll up his sleeves.
His wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, were elsewhere in the city, visiting the Berlin Wall memorial. "The last thing they want to do is listen to another speech from me," he said to laughter.
Due to soaring temperatures and a ban on umbrellas for security reasons, several seats were vacant, several of those invited having cancelled. It was said extras were brought in to fill some of the holes. First-aid teams attended people fainting, while even Obama appeared too hot in his shirt sleeves.
In the audience was the "candy bomber" Gail Halvorsen, now 92, who, as an American airforce pilot, dropped sweets to children during the 1948-49 US airlift for Berlin, which kept the city's citizens alive during the Soviet blockade and which became the strongest symbol of US-German friendship.
"I hope I look that good when I'm 92," the president quipped, as Halvorsen stood and waved.Kate Connolly
Adele Gambaro is defiant after daring to criticise the party's ex-comedian leader Beppe Grillo. But critics say the affair shows the honeymoon is over for the barnstorming protest movement
Sitting in her office in the historic centre of Rome, Adele Gambaro showed no outward sign of being a traitorous dissident or "toxic element". On her desk was a flipped-up iPad and a copy of the Italian constitution open at article no 21, which enshrines a citizen's right to free expression.
"I became a candidate because I was convinced the Five Star Movement (M5S) was a movement that respected Italian constitutional law," she said. "This is fundamental. I respected my rights to express my opinions."
Dramatic though it may have been, Gambaro's parallel between internal party discipline and basic human rights was understandable in the circumstances.
the 48-year-old former business consultant from Bologna, who was elected to the Italian parliament in February on a wave of support for the anti-establishment movement, was expelled from the party she had joined hoping to combat the public's scepticism and change politics.
Her crime? Having granted an "unauthorised" television interview in which she criticised the strategy of the ex-comedian founder of the movement, Beppe Grillo.
In an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday, she remained defiant. "I am relaxed," she said. "I think I did the right thing."
Coming hot on the heels of dismal local election results, the ugly row over Gambaro's ejection has capped a bad month for the barnstorming group, which earlier this year became Italy's biggest single party and one of Europe's most successful protest movements.
Less than four months later, amid rancour, rifts and reams of gleeful commentary in the mainstream Italian media, the euphoria of that stunning breakthrough appears largely to have evaporated.
"I believe that the M5S has seen its peak," said Roberto D'Alimonte, a leading political analyst. "I do not believe they will go back to the success they achieved in February, because the contradictions have been exposed at the voters' level, not just within the movement. A lot of people did not realise in February the kind of party they were voting for. Now they have realised, and they will not vote for it again."
In recent weeks, a limited set of local elections around Italy marked what for many observers was the first sign that the M5S's honeymoon could be coming to an end. The movement won just two of more than 500 town councils.
The media were quick to jump on the results, which they said called a "flop" compared with the national elections. Others, however, warned against reading too much into them, arguing that a fledgling movement with underdeveloped infrastructure and largely unknown candidates was never likely to fare well in a contest fought on local issues and personalities.
"Local elections run on very different logic from the general election," said Duncan McDonnell, a political analyst at the European University Institute near Florence. National surveys, he pointed out, still put the M5S's support on 18-20%.
But while agreeing that the results should not be exaggerated, D'Alimonte still thinks they indicate that the Five Star shine is wearing off among some voters - including those who were irked by the rambunctious figurehead's refusal to support a minority government led by the centre-left Democratic party (PD), thus forcing the PD to form a coalition with Berlusconi's centre-right.
One person who certainly thought the recent election results were disappointing - a "debacle", in fact - was Gambaro. And she wasted no time in saying so. In an interview, she said the M5S was "paying for Beppe Grillo's tone", singling out his "misguided communication" and "rather threatening" blogposts.
For good measure, she added: "We have been here [in parliament] for three months and we have never seen him … I invite him to write less and observe more."
On his blog, the former comedian regularly lambasts and fulminates, in his well-established bombastic style. On one notable occasion, he decried the former PD head Pier Luigi Bersani as a "dead man talking". His nickname for the former prime minister Mario Monti was Rigor Montis.
Gambaro, though, thinks the M5S should have turned down the volume as soon as 163 Grillini marched through the doors of the parliament. "At that point, I believe – and it's not just me, many do – the language has to change. Because we are in parliament for all Italian citizens, not only those who voted for the M5S … the tone needs to be more conciliatory," she said.
Grillo did not appear to take her criticisms on board. He responded by saying he wanted her out. Some of Gambaro's colleagues labelled her a traitor; others defended her. On Monday, in what was likened to a political trial, M5S MPs were called to a live-streamed hearing to debate whether or not she should be expelled. Later, behind closed doors, they voted by 79 votes to 42, with nine abstentions, to let the M5S's network of grassroots activists decide her fate. The verdict on Wednesday night, by 66% to 34%, was expulsion. Roughly a third of those eligible to vote did so.
Meanwhile, another MP, who referred to a "psycho-police climate" and an internal clash between hardliners and "dissidents", also looked likely to face the same punishment.
D'Alimonte believes there is now "a serious risk of split". One of the biggest contradictions within the M5S, he said, was "the claim to participatory democracy, and on the other hand the leadership style of Mr Grillo".
"He [Grillo] talks of himself as the mouthpiece, but he is really the orchestra director. And the musicians are not supposed to play their own music. It reminds me of the Fellini movie [Orchestra Rehearsal]."
Despite its current travails, however, it is too early to call time on the M5S. McDonnell said that, if it can address some of its "growing pains", it will still have potential to stir up trouble for Italy's mainstream politicians. The grand coalition government that Enrico Letta heads is everything the M5S hates, and it already has relatively low approval ratings.
"Their structures haven't grown at the same speed as they've grown electorally, and that's obviously creating a lot of problems," he said. "[But] I think the M5S are in a good position if they can weather these storms. If they can, they are actually structurally in a good position because they are the main opposition against a centre-right and centre-left coalition. But obviously a lot is going to depend on what happens now and over the next couple of weeks."
Back in her Senate office, Gambaro explained why, despite all the controversy her off-message remarks have created, she would have liked to stay in the M5S – if it had wanted her. "Because I never criticised the values on which the movement is based," she said. "And my colleagues: we are working so hard. We need to communicate to the outside world what we are doing. At the moment, though, all we're talking about is allowances, me, my declarations, splits. We are not talking about what we are doing. I think the communication over the past four months has been disastrous."
And what of the man whose "tone" she has found so objectionable? "I think the movement is Beppe Grillo," she says. "It was he who founded it and he who brought it to the parliament. He has incredible qualities. I esteem him greatly for them. The risk is that, for want of experience, on his part as well, he isn't able to manage [the movement]."Lizzy Davies
Deal means government forces will regain control of last rebel-held area, run elections and unlock £2.8bn international aid
Mali has signed a controversial ceasefire deal with Tuareg separatist insurgents, paving the way for government troops to return to the last rebel-held town of Kidal ahead of presidential elections next month.
The agreement allows for the immediate "phased deployment" of government troops in the troubled Kidal province of northern Mali – the last rebel stronghold in the country.
"This agreement is very important for the future Mali. It allows for the strengthening of the Malian state" said Manga Dembele, minister of communication for Mali, speaking to the Guardian by phone from capital Bamako.
"But it is a preliminary agreement, and it is important to note that the agreement recognises the territorial integrity of Mali, and provides for disarmament of rebel groups. This is the in best interest of the nation."
Mali's complex history of Tuareg rebellions has played a central role in the country's ongoing war.
Malian soldiers, weary after a series of defeats at the hands of the Tuareg Mouvement National de Libération de L'Azawad (MNLA), mutinied in March last year, and then instigated a military coup in capital city Bamako. In the ensuing power vacuum, the MNLA seized control of the north until they were ousted by the al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups.
After a French-led international military intervention in January ended Islamist control, the MNLA and other Tuareg groups have re-emerged in the region, and retained control of the town of Kidal, a traditional seat of Tuareg power.
"There has been deep distrust between these two entities for a long time, and both sides have legitimate grievances, and there are serious problems for the security sector in that region" said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies. "This agreement does have some potential far-reaching significance – it suggests an acceptance on the part of the Tuareg leadership that they are a part of the state of Mali, and it then opens the door for their participation in these elections."
The new peace agreement is seen as part of a broader peace process to resolve Tuaregs' longstanding demands for greater autonomy for northern Mali.
But concessions to Tuareg calls for self-rule are a highly charged issue in the West African country. A long history of tension between black African ethnic groups – who form the majority of Mali's population – and nomadic Tuaregs, who have a separate cultural-linguistic heritage – has been inflamed by allegations that Tuaregs raped and persecuted black Malian residents in northern towns under their control.
Malians are also divided over the forthcoming elections, due to be held on 28 July 28, with many saying the international community is forcing the country to rush into voting before the country, deeply scarred by the events of the last year, is ready.
"The international community wants to force Mali's hand," Diakité Fatoumata Siré, president of women's group Association pour le Progrès et la Défense des Femmes au Mali (Apdef), told journalists. "If the authorities don't change their position on this, we will mobilise women to act and defend the interests of Mali."
"We want to see justice done," Siré continued. "Just becomes there are negotiations it does not mean that the crimes [that have been perpetrated] should be ignored."
Many Tuaregs also accuse the Malian forces of ethnically-motivated abuses against them.
The international community hailed the agreement as an essential step towards restoring democracy in Mali, and restoring peace after repeated clashes between government and Tuareg forces in Kidal.
"The signing of this agreement represents a significant step in the stabilisation process in Mali," said UN special representative to Mali, Bert Koenders in Ouagadougou, where mediators and representatives of the two groups met for almost two weeks before reaching the new agreement, which also unlocks a £2.8bn aid package pledged by western nations last month.
In a statement released today French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said that Mali had been "on the abyss" when France had intervened in its conflict, and welcomed the peace agreement.
"This agreement represents a major breakthrough in the crisis in Mali. Looking ahead to the presidential election on 28 July, it reconciles respect for the territorial integrity of Mali and the recognition of a specific approach to the problems of the north," said Fabius.Afua Hirsch
Silicon Valley worships at the altar of laissez-faire, trickle-down economics. It's a flawed vision, but it speaks to a generation
As Google reels from stinging condemnation for its tax avoidance from Margaret Hodge's parliamentary committee, and the hi-tech companies are embarrassed by allegations of state surveillance, the general response has been one of astonished disbelief.
But we should not be surprised. The "iCapitalists" have long been zealots for a radically neoliberal vision of capitalism. It is their skill at making this harsh approach palatable to the modern zeitgeist which will probably save their skin – though with potentially disastrous consequences for our economy.
Big tech, originating in California's Silicon Valley, has always been about more than cutting-edge engineering. It embodies a value system that merges a counter-cultural 60s romantic individualism with a cold-eyed commitment to free markets. Apple's Steve Jobs, the Zen Buddhist of canny entrepreneurialism, captured the worldview with Apple's famous 1997 slogan: "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers …"
And it is this rebellious pose that reconciled a whole swath of the educated professional classes – the "creatives" – to free-market capitalism. In the 1980s, it was besuited corporates who were in the vanguard of Thatcher's and Reagan's neoliberal revolution – people such as the hard-faced, downsizing financier Mitt Romney. The iCapitalists, however, presented a far more appealing vision to liberals – one of denimed democracy, of gender-blind and colour-blind egalitarianism. For many of us, Google's own Big Brother house-style offices, with their Play School sofas and pool tables, seemed the very epitome of a creative, "happening" workplace; while Facebook's Silicon Valley HQ was a mini-utopia of subsidised gyms, dentists, and personal stylists.
But this is an egalitarian utopia only for the networked and highly educated, not for the many. For the iCapitalist culture is not so much liberal as libertarian, and is founded on the belief that we should be led by elite hi-tech businesses and their shinily packaged semi-conductors and microchips; the state, a lumbering, bureaucratic drag on creativity and innovation, has a minimal role.
This worldview lies behind Eric Schmidt's defending Google's tax affairs with reference to the company being "a key part of the electronic commerce expansion of Britain, which is driving a lot of economic growth for the country." It is not necessary, it seems, to worry about taxation, and indeed the state, as long as company profits are trickling down to the rest of us. The PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has taken this anti-state view to its logical conclusion, and contributed funds to "Seasteading" – a project inspired by the libertarian writer Ayn Rand, to create mobile "islands" of entrepreneurs on cruise-ships and oil-rigs, where they can be free of tax and state regulations.
As the iCapitalists have become richer, they have aspired to project this libertarian vision beyond their sunny, frisbee-friendly Californian campuses to society more generally. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has set up FWD.us to lobby American politicians. It has been pressing for looser rules on immigration – a cause his critics argue is primarily driven by company's appetite for foreign tech-engineers, and a cheap alternative to improving the American education system.
Of course, we need hi-tech, and Britain should be investing more in the sector. But the iCapitalist vision of society is deeply flawed, and potentially destructive. It is based on the false premise that the tech industries are a triumph of and justification for pure laissez-faire economics – refusing to acknowledge, of course, that the US department of defence drove the development of Silicon Valley. Also, it erroneously assumes that economic growth can be driven by a small group of super-wealthy, highly educated individuals, producing technologies that allow employers to cut wage costs for the majority, while resisting taxation and redistribution. This was precisely the highly inegalitarian economic model that led governments to maintain consumption by allowing a debt build-up among us lesser mortals – contributing to the crisis of 2008.
Since the financial crisis, the iCapitalists, like the bankers, have come under more scrutiny. They will clearly now have to pay more tax, at least in the UK, and they are under pressure elsewhere.
And now we have the possibility that the tech companies have allowed the US government wide access to their users' data, something that they have denied. If true, it leave them open to the charge of gross hypocrisy; for despite their much-vaunted libertarianism, it seems, they can also collaborate with an overbearing state.
It may be this scandal, rather than the tax-dodging, that undermines faith in big tech.
But there is little sign of any rebellion yet. For the iCapitalist vision of liberation and creativity still resonates with many of us, and particularly the young. British polls show that those born since 1979 are more likely to be socially liberal on race, gender and sexuality, but also more pro-market and anti-state than their older peers. They are also less likely to engage in boycotts of companies guilty of tax avoidance.
One explanation may be that this generation came of age when the iCapitalist vision seemed to be working and jobs were plentiful. And it may be some years before the hollowed-out neoliberal economy takes its toll and the flaws of iCapitalism are finally exposed.
Group controlled by China's second-richest man to purchase yacht maker Sunseeker and build luxury hotel in London
China's second-richest man has acquired the British yacht maker Sunseeker and announced plans for a luxury hotel in London in a £1bn investment that broadens the Chinese corporate footprint in the UK.
Dalian Wanda Group, which is controlled by Wang Jianlin, is adding to a diverse list of Chinese interests in Britain that includes Heathrow airport, MG Cars, Thames Water and Weetabix.
The corporation confirmed on Wednesday that it would acquire a 92% stake in Dorset-based Sunseeker for £320m and had finalised a £720m deal to build a five-star hotel in Wandsworth, billed as the "first Chinese luxury hotel overseas".
The announcements underscore the growing international ambitions of Chinese companies, coming a month after the meat producer Shuanghui International launched a $4.7bn (£3bn) bid to purchase the US-based Smithfield, the world's largest pork business. Last year, Wanda also acquired the US cinema chain AMC for $2.6bn.
The emphasis on luxury in the latest announcements also underlines the role of high-end consumption in the world's second largest economy, with the country's burgeoning middle class playing a vital role in boosting sales of upmarket British brands such as Jaguar Land Rover and Burberry.
The Beijing press conference for the Sunseeker announcement did not stint on showmanship. The event was interspersed with musical interludes featuring lasers, smoke machines and sequin-clad dancers on a set resembling a yacht. It included speeches by Wang, the managing director of Sunseeker, Stewart McIntyre, and - in a nod to the importance of China to the UK economy - the British ambassador to China, Sebastian Wood.
Wang, a property tycoon, lauded the UK investment plan as a major step in Wanda's international expansion. Asked why Wanda would purchase a yacht company, he said his conglomerate planned to build marinas in three north-eastern Chinese cities, and that each would require the purchase of at least 10 yachts. "We figured it's more worthwhile to buy a yacht company rather than buy 30 yachts," he said. "Private yachts are a booming market in China."
Wang docks his own $33m Sunseeker in Shanghai and claims that he is the first Chinese citizen to own a private jet. A native of the south-western province Sichuan, he spent his early years in the military combatting hunger during Mao's Cultural Revolution. "In the early days we really had to scramble to eat," he told the Financial Times in a rare interview last year. "The hardship then was unimaginable."
Sunseeker, which has been operating since the 1970s and whose yachts regularly appear in James Bond films, will maintain its UK production base. The company employs 2,000 people and generates revenues of around £300m a year.
"Under no circumstances will we compromise the Sunseeker brand," McIntyre told reporters, adding that the company exported its products to 67 countries. "We're proud to fly the flag that we're made in Britain."
He said the company was drawn towards "inherent opportunities in China and the Asian market", adding that the Wanda group had similar attributes to Sunseeker. "It has a strong commitment to entrepreneurship," he said.
Wanda's luxury hotel will be built in London's Nine Elms regeneration site, which will also be home to a new US embassy, shops, offices and flats. A video played at the press conference advertised the 160-room hotel's art deco style and rooftop swimming pool. Wood said he hoped the hotel would "bring a touch of Chinese style to the centre of London".
"We already have 500 companies that come from mainland China now operating in the UK," he said. "Wanda is not the only group who benefits from the most open market in the world, but with their investment scale and future plans, Wanda Group is absolutely standing at the top."
Chinse tourists spent $102bn on foreign travel last year, a 40% rise on 2011, and London receives around 180,000 a year. Boris Johnson called the Wanda development a "cracking deal".
Wang said his company planned to build similar hotel developments in eight or 10 cities around the world over the next decade. "Why do I say 10 years? We don't want to do this in one night," he said. "We've opened 16 hotels in China in one year. Internationally, it's different."International ambitions
• SAIC Motor Corp, China's biggest car maker, bought MG Cars in 2007. Other major European car brands under Chinese ownership include Saab and Volvo. China is now the world's largest car market ahead of the US, and domestic manufacturers have been keen to acquire production expertise.
• China Investment Corporation, the country's sovereign wealth fund, bought a stake in the UK's largest water utility in 2012. George Osborne described it as a vote of confidence in Britain. Thames Water's tax arrangements came under attack this month when it was revealed it paid no corporation tax on profits of £550m.
• State-owned Bright Foods bought a majority stake in Weetabix for £720m in May last year, after failing in a £1.2bn bid for United Biscuits, the maker of Jaffa Cakes and Twiglets. Bright Foods has been tipped to make further acquisitions of western food brands.
• China Investment Corporation added Heathrow to its list of assets last year when it bought a 10% stake in the UK's largest airport. CIC has about $410bn in assets under management and its investments include shareholdings in the investment bank Morgan Stanley.Jonathan Kaiman
Key points from David Drummond's responses to questions about the NSA leak, Prism and privacy
David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, took part in a live Q&A on Wednesday to answer questions about internet security, privacy and surveillance, and the NSA and Prism. Here are some key things we learned:1 Drummond said it's "just not true" that Google gives the NSA unfettered access to user data
2. He firmly denied Google is in cahoots with the NSA
If by what has now been "revealed" you mean the allegation that Google is allowing the NSA unfettered access to user data or that we're handing over data willy-nilly to the government, again, that's just not true. It's not rhetoric, it's just a fact.
I'm not sure I can say this more clearly: we're not in cahoots with the NSA and there is no government programme that Google participates in that allows the kind of access that the media originally reported. Note that I say "originally" because you'll see that many of those original sources corrected their articles after it became clear that the Prism slides were not accurate. Now, what does happen is that we get specific requests from the government for user data. We review each of those requests and push back when the request is overly broad or doesn't follow the correct process. There is no free-for-all, no direct access, no indirect access, no back door, no drop box.3. Drummond says Google isn't lying about anything
We're not in the business of lying and we're absolutely telling the truth about all of this. Our business depends on the trust of our users. And I'm an executive officer of a large publicly traded company, so lying to the public wouldn't be the greatest career move.4. And that Google isn't legally bound to lie about anything
Nope. No gun to my head5. Google says it has a long track record of challenging government requests
6. And Google hopes its efforts on transparency will rebuild any lost trust
We've long pushed for total transparency so users can better understand the extent to which governments request their data, for any reason. Earlier this year we managed to get clearance to release numbers for National Security Letters, but we're going to keep pushing for more. We were also the first company to publish a transparency report.
I'm really troubled if you've lost trust in us because of this idea that we're collaborating in a broad surveillance programme. We're not, and that's why we are pushing back so hard on these allegations. We hope that our actions, in pushing for more transparency and legal reform and in continuing to take steps to protect our users, will win you back.7. Google plans to live up to its promise not to be evil
We do push back where we can, and do everything we can to protect our users' data. But we don't write the laws. Maybe one positive outcome of all this will be to have a deeper debate on this and come up with laws that are more transparent to the public.8. And its "honesty and integrity in all we do" ethos is promoted at all levels
We promote that at all levels. I've been involved with Google since about the beginning and I'm extremely proud of the technology we've built that helps millions of users every day to make the world a better place. We don't get everything 100% right 100% of the time, and when we mess up, we admit it and we work to correct our mistakes. And we're also going to speak up – loudly – when we are falsely accused of something, like we have been here.
Read the full Q&A here.Jonathan Haynes
French city tourism officials hand out manual on better etiquette aimed at ridding capital of reputation for unfriendliness
One of the world's most visited cities but also famous for its rudeness, Paris has embarked on a campaign to improve its reputation and better cater to the needs of tourists.
Waiters, taxi drivers and sales staff in the French capital all too often come off as impolite, unhelpful and unable to speak foreign languages say local tourism chiefs, who are handing out a manual with guidelines on better etiquette.
A six-page booklet entitled "Do you speak Touriste?" contains greetings in eight languages, including German, Chinese and Portuguese and advice on the spending habits and cultural codes of different nationalities.
"The British like to be called by their first names," the guide explains, while Italians should be shaken by the hand and Americans reassured on prices.
Of the Chinese, the fastest-growing category of tourists visiting the City of Light, the guide says they are "fervent shoppers" and that "a simple smile and hello in their language will fully satisfy them".
France is the world's top destination for foreign tourists, with Paris visited by 29 million people last year. The business tourists bring to hotels, restaurants and museums accounts for one in 10 jobs in the region and is a welcome boost to the economy at a time of depressed domestic consumption.
The Paris chamber of commerce and the regional tourism committee have warned, however, that growing competition from friendlier cities like London meant Paris needed to work harder to attract visitors, especially from emerging market countries.
Some 30,000 copies of the handbook on friendly service is being distributed to taxi drivers, waiters, hotel managers and sales people in tourist areas from the banks of the Seine river up to Montmartre and in nearby Versailles and Fontainebleau.
BC Partners heads off flotation threat from owners and takes control of academic and business publisher for €3.3bn
Buyout firm BC Partners has agreed to buy publishing group Springer Science and Business Media for about €3.3bn (£2.8bn), the largest private-equity acquisition in Germany for seven years.
The owners EQT, a Swedish private equity firm, and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation had been pursuing both a direct sale and a flotation, which appears to have paid off by pushing up the offer price.
It was reporter earlier in the week that the owners entered fresh talks with BC Partners after last week rejecting the firm's €3.1bn bid as too low and announcing they would float the business.
Springer, which competes with Anglo-Dutch publisher Reed Elsevier and Dutch company Wolters Kluwer, publishes 2,200 English-language journals and more than 8,000 new book titles every year.
"BC Partners plans to support the continued growth of Springer globally by further expanding its core subscription business as well as focusing on traditionally high-growth areas such as open access publishing and emerging markets," the buyout firm said.
Sources said the sellers would keep a stake of about 10% in Springer between them. BC Partners confirmed the current owners would retain a minority shareholding.
BC Partners said some of the €3.3bn deal value, which includes debt, depends on the publisher's future performance.
The deal is expected to be completed in August.
UK private equity groups Candover and Cinven created Springer Science in 2004 by merging Dutch group Kluwer Academic Publishers with German firm BertelsmannSpringer.
In December 2009, EQT and GIC bought 82% and 18% of the company, respectively, from Candover and Cinven.
The oxygen was either produced by life forms or by a chemical reaction in the atmosphere of Mars
Mars had an oxygen-rich atmosphere more than a billion years before the Earth, say scientists. An examination of meteorites and rocks on the planet suggests that oxygen was affecting the Martian surface four billion years ago.
On Earth, oxygen did not build up to appreciable quantities in the atmosphere for at least another 1.5bn years.
The researchers compared Martian meteorites that have crashed onto the Earth with data from rocks examined by Nasa's Spirit Mars rover. Differences in their composition can best be explained by an abundance of oxygen early in Martian history.
Spirit was exploring an ancient part of Mars containing rocks more than 3.7bn years old. The rocks bear the hallmarks of early exposure to oxygen before being "recycled" – drawn into shallow regions of the planet's interior and then spewed out in volcanic eruptions.
Volcanic Martian meteorites, on the other hand, originate from deeper within the planet where they would be less affected by oxygen. The meteorites travel to Earth after being flung into space by massive eruptions or impacts.
The new research, published in the journal Nature, has implications for the possibility of past life on Mars. On early Earth, the atmosphere was gradually filled with free oxygen by photosynthesising microbes. Scientists call this the Great Oxygenation Event.
The link between oxygen and life on Mars is less certain. Oxygen could have been produced biologically, or by a chemical reaction in the atmosphere.
Lead scientist Professor Bernard Wood of Oxford University said: "The implication is that Mars had an oxygen-rich atmosphere at a time, about 4,000 million years ago, well before the rise of atmospheric oxygen on Earth around 2,500 million years ago.
"As oxidation is what gives Mars its distinctive colour, it is likely that the 'red planet' was wet, warm and rusty billions of years before Earth's atmosphere became oxygen-rich."
Google's David Drummond answers your questions about the NSA, internet security, privacy and the limits of law
Thirty years ago, the old deal that held US society together started to unwind, with social cohesion sacrificed to greed. Was it an inevitable process – or was it engineered by self-interested elites?
In or around 1978, America's character changed. For almost half a century, the United States had been a relatively egalitarian, secure, middle-class democracy, with structures in place that supported the aspirations of ordinary people. You might call it the period of the Roosevelt Republic. Wars, strikes, racial tensions and youth rebellion all roiled national life, but a basic deal among Americans still held, in belief if not always in fact: work hard, follow the rules, educate your children, and you will be rewarded, not just with a decent life and the prospect of a better one for your kids, but with recognition from society, a place at the table.
This unwritten contract came with a series of riders and clauses that left large numbers of Americans – black people and other minorities, women, gay people – out, or only halfway in. But the country had the tools to correct its own flaws, and it used them: healthy democratic institutions such as Congress, courts, churches, schools, news organisations, business-labour partnerships. The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a nonviolent mass uprising led by black southerners, but it drew essential support from all of these institutions, which recognised the moral and legal justice of its claims, or, at the very least, the need for social peace. The Roosevelt Republic had plenty of injustice, but it also had the power of self-correction.
Americans were no less greedy, ignorant, selfish and violent then than they are today, and no more generous, fair-minded and idealistic. But the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends. Human nature does not change, but social structures can, and they did.
At the time, the late 1970s felt like shapeless, dreary, forgettable years. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, preaching austerity and public-spiritedness, and hardly anyone was listening. The hideous term "stagflation", which combined the normally opposed economic phenomena of stagnation and inflation, perfectly captured the doldrums of that moment. It is only with the hindsight of a full generation that we can see how many things were beginning to shift across the American landscape, sending the country spinning into a new era.
In Youngstown, Ohio, the steel mills that had been the city's foundation for a century closed, one after another, with breathtaking speed, taking 50,000 jobs from a small industrial river valley, leaving nothing to replace them. In Cupertino, California, the Apple Computer Company released the first popular personal computer, the Apple II. Across California, voters passed Proposition 13, launching a tax revolt that began the erosion of public funding for what had been the country's best school system. In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract. Newt Gingrich came to Congress as a conservative Republican with the singular ambition to tear it down and build his own and his party's power on the rubble. On Wall Street, Salomon Brothers pioneered a new financial product called mortgage-backed securities, and then became the first investment bank to go public.
The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s. The US became more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, more individualistic and less communitarian, more free and less equal, more tolerant and less fair. Banking and technology, concentrated on the coasts, turned into engines of wealth, replacing the world of stuff with the world of bits, but without creating broad prosperity, while the heartland hollowed out. The institutions that had been the foundation of middle-class democracy, from public schools and secure jobs to flourishing newspapers and functioning legislatures, were set on the course of a long decline. It as a period that I call the Unwinding.
In one view, the Unwinding is just a return to the normal state of American life. By this deterministic analysis, the US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies, it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility. There is nothing unusual about the six surviving heirs to the Walmart fortune possessing between them the same wealth as the bottom 42% of Americans – that's the country's default setting. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the reincarnation of Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie, Steven Cohen is another JP Morgan, Jay-Z is Jay Gatsby.
The rules and regulations of the Roosevelt Republic were aberrations brought on by accidents of history – depression, world war, the cold war – that induced Americans to surrender a degree of freedom in exchange for security. There would have been no Glass-Steagall Act, separating commercial from investment banking, without the bank failures of 1933; no great middle-class boom if the US economy had not been the only one left standing after the second world war; no bargain between business, labour and government without a shared sense of national interest in the face of foreign enemies; no social solidarity without the door to immigrants remaining closed through the middle of the century.
Once American pre-eminence was challenged by international competitors, and the economy hit rough seas in the 70s, and the sense of existential threat from abroad subsided, the deal was off. Globalisation, technology and immigration hurried the Unwinding along, as inexorable as winds and tides. It is sentimental at best, if not ahistorical, to imagine that the social contract could ever have survived – like wanting to hang on to a world of nuclear families and manual typewriters.
This deterministic view is undeniable but incomplete. What it leaves out of the picture is human choice. A fuller explanation of the Unwinding takes into account these large historical influences, but also the way they were exploited by US elites – the leaders of the institutions that have fallen into disrepair. America's postwar responsibilities demanded co-operation between the two parties in Congress, and when the cold war waned, the co-operation was bound to diminish with it. But there was nothing historically determined about the poisonous atmosphere and demonising language that Gingrich and other conservative ideologues spread through US politics. These tactics served their narrow, short-term interests, and when the Gingrich revolution brought Republicans to power in Congress, the tactics were affirmed. Gingrich is now a has-been, but Washington today is as much his city as anyone's.
It was impossible for Youngstown's steel companies to withstand global competition and local disinvestment, but there was nothing inevitable about the aftermath – an unmanaged free-for-all in which unemployed workers were left to fend for themselves, while corporate raiders bought the idle hulks of the mills with debt in the form of junk bonds and stripped out the remaining value. It may have been inevitable that the constraints imposed on US banks by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 would start to slip off in the era of global finance. But it was a political choice on the part of Congress and President Bill Clinton to deregulate Wall Street so thoroughly that nothing stood between the big banks and the destruction of the economy.
Much has been written about the effects of globalisation during the past generation. Much less has been said about the change in social norms that accompanied it. American elites took the vast transformation of the economy as a signal to rewrite the rules that used to govern their behaviour: a senator only resorting to the filibuster on rare occasions; a CEO limiting his salary to only 40 times what his average employees made instead of 800 times; a giant corporation paying its share of taxes instead of inventing creative ways to pay next to zero. There will always be isolated lawbreakers in high places; what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing.
Earlier this year, Al Gore made $100m (£64m) in a single month by selling Current TV to al-Jazeera for $70m and cashing in his shares of Apple stock for $30m. Never mind that al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, whose oil exports and views of women and minorities make a mockery of the ideas that Gore propounds in a book or film every other year. Never mind that his Apple stock came with his position on the company's board, a gift to a former presidential contender. Gore used to be a patrician politician whose career seemed inspired by the ideal of public service. Today – not unlike Tony Blair – he has traded on a life in politics to join the rarefied class of the global super-rich.
It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged. It is no wonder that they buy houses they cannot afford and then walk away from the mortgage when they can no longer pay. Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.
George Packer's The Unwinding is published by Faber & Faber at £20
WPP chief says internet companies have to take responsibility for the editorial content appearing on their sites
• Jimmy Wales: Revelations a serious issue for Barack Obama
• Vivienne Westwood: Edward Snowden did a wonderful thing
The founder of the world's biggest marketing services company, Sir Martin Sorrell, has said he believes revelations about the National Security Agency's Prism internet surveillance program are a "game changer" that will spark a fundamental rethink of web privacy by web users.
The WPP chief executive said that Prism, which allows the NSA to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, according to documents obtained by the Guardian from whistleblower Edward Snowden, is so important that even young people who often have a cavalier attitude to what they reveal online are likely to be concerned about privacy.
"I think Prism and what's happening in the US will have a very significant impact, I think it is game changing," he said, speaking to the Guardian at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Wednesday. "I think the privacy issue is going to be raised to a new level by this. It will alter people's views on privacy, even younger people."
He added: "I think even amongst under 35s, people will become very concerned about privacy. It is going to get aired I think quite extensively publicly, I think it is a matter of great public interest."
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, also speaking to the Guardian in a video interview at the Cannes Lions festival on Wednesday, said he thought most people would find the Prism revelations "pretty astonishing".
Wales cautioned that it was still not 100% clear what was going on and it may be many years before all the relevant information is declassified.
But he said it was going to be a serious issue for US president Barack Obama. "Simply because he did make a lot of really positive noises about not doing this kind of thing, or cutting back on it, or being more transparent about it," Wales added. "For this to all come out – it doesn't feel right for the Obama base. I think that's going to be potentially something he has to deal with."
"What I would forecast in the long run is that more and more and more services online are going to go to encryption. Not just to make sure the government is not snooping on people, but just for basic security."
Sorrell said 25% of WPP's £10bn-plus in annual revenues comes from what he calls "data investment management" for advertising and marketing clients.
However, he admitted even he was stunned when he learned the extent of what the US government could do with Prism.
"The fact that the government has access to this data on an organised basis came as a surprise to me," said Sorrell. "And I would pride myself as being perhaps one of those people that knew more about those things than the average."
He said: "I can't imagine what people of my age and much younger think about it and I think it will alter their views. I think it is very significant."
Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer who appeared at the Cannes festival on Tuesday, hailed Snowden as a hero.
"I'm a huge supporter of Bradley Manning ... but what Snowden did is even more important as we are all directly involved," Westwood said, speaking at a Cannes session as a guest of agency Sapient Nitro to promote her brand of storytelling and campaigning. "People feel huge sympathy for what's happening in Afghanistan – just shooting people – but everybody is directly affected [by the NSA leaks].
"I think it's wonderful what he did, really brave. The really dangerous thing is that people are going to self-censor after this. It's a real problem for free speech."
Sorrell said that he spoke to a number of senior executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google at a private WPP event in Cannes on Tuesday, but they were reluctant to talk about the issue.
"I asked the question about Prism. It is not something people feel comfortable, even in a semi-private or private environment, talking about," he said.
Sorrell has previously said he believes companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook are "media companies masquerading as technology companies".
He returned to that theme on Wednesday, recalling a debate he hosted at Cannes a few years ago with Google, Yahoo, Facebook and AOL.
"They all answered [that they were a] technology company," he said. "Well they are hiding behind it … If you have responsibility for the pipes, you can't ignore the responsibility for the editorial content. It is no good saying I am just an engineer tightening the nuts on the pipe, making sure it works. You have to be responsible for the editorial content too, you can't abrogate responsibility for it. It is the same thing. They are media owners."
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As supreme court weighs marriage equality, Alaska senator joins Mark Kirk and Rob Portman as Republicans in favour
A third sitting Republican senator has backed gay marriage as the US waits for the Supreme Court to reach a decision on two pivotal cases regarding the constitutionality same-sex marriage.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said on Wednesday that she supported marriage equality and "supports the government getting out of the way to let that happen."
In her Wednesday statement, she cited a female couple who had adopted four children but did not have the same rights as other families.
"After their years of sleepless nights, after-school pickups and birthday cakes, if one of them gets sick or injured and needs critical care, the other would not be allowed to visit them in the emergency room – and the children could possibly be taken away from the healthy partner," Murkoswki said. "They do not get considered for household health care benefit coverage like spouses nationwide. This first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence."
Murkowski evoked a traditional family values argument in support of the cause.
"With the notion of marriage – an exclusive, emotional, binding 'til death do you part' tie – becoming more and more an exception to the rule given a rise in cohabitation and high rates of divorce, why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay?" Murkowski said in a statement
"I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less."
Murkowski, a Catholic, said she believes marriage is a sacrament between a man and a women but that the "government should not tell people who they have a right to marry through a civil ceremony".
She that her decision to support marriage equality was an endorsement for personal liberty, happy community life and religious liberty. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Alaska.
The US supreme court is expected to make a ruling on two cases related to marriage equality soon. The court will rule on whether the Defense of Marriage Act and California's ban on gay marriage, Proposition 8, are constitutional.
Ohio senator Rob Portman was the first sitting Republican senator to announce his support for same-sex marriage in March.
"I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married," Portman wrote in an op-ed for the Columbia Dispatch.
Illinois senator Mark Kirk followed Portman's announcement in April and said: "Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back – government has no place in the middle."
Murkowski had previously said her position on same-sex marriage was "evolving."Amanda Holpuch
French anti-corruption law weakened as false information is criminalised but public get only limited access to asset files
François Hollande's anti-corruption crusade aiming at publishing MPs' assets has ended in a watered-down compromise after parliament voted for details of assets to be accessible to voters but not made public.
The decision sparked criticism concerning the limits to freedom of information and the work of the media.
Following the scandal of the Socialist budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac – who hid €600,000 from the tax authorities in a secret Swiss bank account and repeatedly lied about it – the French president vowed an unprecedented transparency drive this year.
Hollande ordered ministers to publish their assets and promised to introduce a law that would make MPs, elected officials and town mayors do the same.
But he was faced with a rebellion, not just by the rightwing opposition, who described publishing assets as "voyeurism and hypocrisy", but also by his own Socialist MPs, who were reticent to air their finances in public.
The Socialist head of the assembly, Claude Bartelone, warned that publishing all assets amounted to "paparazzi democracy".
The subsequent wrangling and compromise means that assets now will be declared to a new monitoring body and kept on file.
But only voters in a politician's constituency can consult the file, not other members of the public. The voters can refer a complaint to the monitoring body if they fear an anomaly. But no detail of the assets can be published in any form. If any detail is published, there is a risk of a €45,000 fine and one-year jail sentence.
Pascal Riché, editor of the website Rue89, said the law meant that "freedom to inform" in France would be faced with a new restriction. Anti-corruption groups described the law on assets as limited. The Green MP François de Rugy said he was disappointed the measures had been toned down and said it would not help lessen public distrust of politicians.
The French president had ordered political transparency rules that would be among the strictest in Europe, with French politicians declaring all their assets.
Germany and Britain require all MPs to disclose activities or assets that provide an income, although politicians do not have to disclose all their assets.
The new French law will create a tougher monitoring body to check MPs' assets declarations. Providing false information will now be a criminal offence. Elected politicians will also have to declare any conflict of interest.
The Cahuzac scandal is still having repercussions in France. This weekend marks the second round of a byelection which arose following the disgraced budget minister's resignation as MP. The Socialist candidate was knocked out in the first round, leaving a run-off between the right-wing UMP and far-right Front National.
This has prompted soul searching not just about the strength of Marine Le Pen's Front National, but also about the Socialist party, which though it still has an absolute majority in parliament, has had its MP numbers shrink through a series of byelections.
Michiko Ono and Masaru Nishimori are both in their 80s, have never suffered a serious illness and deal with the Japanese capital's city heat better than their interviewer
In the Sugamo district of northern Tokyo the capital's older people – today braving 30C heat and energy-sapping humidity – come to shop, eat, and pray for even longer lives.
The object of their desire is Sugamo's famed shio daifuku. The heavy, glutinous patties of pounded rice containing salted, rather than the usual sweetened, bean paste are the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cup of green tea. The sweets are perhaps the one guilty pleasure that elderly shoppers here will own up to in a diet that is otherwise faultless in its simplicity, not to mention its commendable lack of transfats and refined sugar.
Diet is part of the reason for Japan's impressive longevity, exemplified by Jiroemon Kimura, the world's oldest person until his death last week at the age of 116.
For Michiko Ono, an 82-year-old from Tokyo, accompanying her daughter on a shopping expedition, the day begins with an unusually carbohydrate-heavy meal of white rice with a raw egg cracked into it, an unbuttered bread roll and the first of several cups of green tea.
The Japanese originally drank green tea, or ocha, for strictly medicinal purposes, convinced that it lowered blood pressure, aided digestion and prevented certain cancers. Green tea consumption is in decline among younger Japanese, but the drink still looms large in the diet of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
"I drink about six cups a day," says Masaru Nishimori, 85, who is sitting in the shade of Koganji temple while he waits for his wife to return from the shops.
In the afternoon, Nishimori will allow himself to veer from his otherwise strict regimen of two modestly sized meals a day with a snack of tea and rice crackers or, if he is feeling particularly reckless, a Japanese-style sweet.
The retired hospital administrator describes himself as practically a vegetarian and credits his perfect health to very rare dalliances with meat, and then only a single stick of grilled yakitori chicken.
"If I could point to one thing that has kept me healthy all these years, it would be the lack of meat in my diet," he says, although giving up alcohol and smoking at the age of 25 can't have done him any harm.
Ono, a lifelong non-drinker and non-smoker, isn't quite as abstemious when it comes to meat. She likes pork, but only lean, thin slices mixed with bean sprouts and other vegetables. Like Nishimori, most of her protein comes from grilled fish: for her, oily arabesque greenling; for him, Pacific saury or sardines.
Aside from rice and green tea, the octogenarians share other perennials in their diets: miso soup, drunk regularly but in small quantities due to its high salt content, and nimono, a low-calorie dish of vegetables simmered in mirin, soy sauce and cooking sake.
Neither has suffered a serious illness and both deal with the Tokyo heat and humidity with far more poise than I do.
"When I go for my annual checkup, my doctor sends me away with the same words every time: 'There's nothing wrong with you,'" Nishimori says. "The only physical problem I have right now is a slightly crooked front tooth."Michiko Ono's menu
Breakfast (6:30am) Boiled white rice mixed with raw egg; bread roll; green tea.
Lunch (11:30am) Small bowl of rice; nimono vegetables (potato, daikon radish, carrots, taro root); thinly sliced stir-fried pork and bean sprouts; miso soup; green tea.
Dinner (6:30 pm) Sushi with her family; green tea.Masaru Nishimori's menu
Breakfast (10am) White rice; miso soup containing Chinese cabbage, sliced onion; green tea; occasionally milk or fruit juice.
No lunch but an afternoon snack of rice crackers or sweet bean mochi; green tea.
Dinner (5pm) Grilled sardines; rice; miso soup; tsukemono pickled daikon radish, lightly rinsed to remove brine coating; green tea.Justin McCurry
President sticks to big themes of freedom and openness but acknowledges concerns over threats to privacy and drone strikes
Barack Obama called for a renaissance in the shared liberal values that underpin western nations on Wednesday as he announced plans to cut nuclear weapons in a much-anticipated speech in Berlin that also acknowledged unease over privacy and drone strikes.
Speaking at the Brandenburg Gate, in the shadow of historic speeches by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, Obama stuck to big themes but clearly sought to address concerns in Germany caused by recent revelations of internet surveillance and US drone warfare.
After quoting Immanuel Kant on freedom and his belief "in open societies that respect that sanctity of the individual", the president echoed calls he made during a recent speech in Washington for an ending of America's war on terror.
"Threats to freedom don't merely come from the outside; they can come from within, from our own fears. For over a decade, America has been at war, but much has changed … no nation can maintain its freedom if it does not move beyond mindset of perpetual war."
The president called for tight controls on the "use of new technology like drones and balancing security with privacy" but said he was confident the US could strike the right balance.
Obama also insisted that US surveillance programmes were aimed at "threats to security, not the communications of ordinary persons" and said "they keep people safe in Europe as well as the US".
But he acknowledged there were legitimate concerns over privacy and other hot-button issues such as drones and Guantánamo.
"We must listen to voices that disagree with us, and have a open debate about how we use our powers and remember that government exists to serve the power of individual not the other way around … that is what keeps us different to those on the other side of the wall. That's what keeps us true to our better history," said Obama.
Among the only firm policy statements was a comittment to cut US nuclear weapons arsenals by a third and seek fresh talks with Russia to reduce stocks further.
"We are on track to cut nuke warheads to lowest levels since 1950s … but we have more work to do, so I am announcing [that] we can ensure security of US and allies by reducing our stored weapons by up to one third," said Obama. "I intend to start talks with Russia to move beyond cold war postures."
Speaking to an invited crowd of 6,000 guests, he also hinted at calls for greater German support for US intervention in countries such as Syria.
"We cannot dictate the pace of change in Arab world but we must reject the excuse that we can do nothing to support it," said Obama.
But much of the speech was couched in broad calls for a restoration of the western alliance that helped defeat communism, amid growing fears in Washington that support for Nato and US is waning in Europe.
"There can at times be a complacency among our western democracies," he said. "We face no concrete walls … sometimes there can be a sense that the great challenges have somehow passed and that brings with it a temptation to turn inward."
Receiving a cheer for taking his jacket off in sweltering heat and reprising John F Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" line, Obama called on German people to remember what they shared with America.
"Our alliance is the foundation of global security and our trade the engine of the global economy," said the president.Dan RobertsKate Connolly
Robert Mueller tells Congress bureau uses drones in a 'very, very minimal way' as senators describe 'burgeoning concern'
The FBI has admitted it sometimes uses aerial surveillance drones over US soil, and suggested further political debate and legislation to govern their domestic use may be necessary.
Speaking in a hearing mainly about telephone data collection, the bureau's director, Robert Mueller, said it used drones to aid its investigations in a "very, very minimal way, very seldom".
However, the potential for growing drone use either in the US, or involving US citizens abroad, is an increasingly charged issue in Congress, and the FBI acknowleged there may need to be legal restrictions placed on their use to protect privacy.
"It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road," said Mueller, in response to questions from Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono.
Hirono said: "I think this is a burgeoning concern for many of us."
Dianne Feinstein, who is also chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said the issue of drones worried her far more than telephone and internet surveillance, which she believes are subject to sufficient legal oversight.
"Our footprint is very small," Mueller told the Senate judiciary committee. "We have very few and have limited use."
He said the FBI was in "the initial stages" of developing privacy guidelines to balance security threats with civil liberty concerns.
It is known that drones are used by border control officials and have been used by some local law enforcement authorities and Department of Homeland Security in criminal cases.
Mueller said he wasn't sure if there were official agreements with these other agencies.
"To the extent that it relates to the air space there would be some communication back and forth [between agencies]," Mueller said.Dan Roberts