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What happens when councils take control of buses?
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    Outside of London, bus services have dropped by 50% since 2008, according to research by Friends of the Earth, external, with people on lower incomes and those without a car disproportionately affected.Bus use plummeted during the pandemic but even before then it was steadily declining in areas outside the capital.

    The town - 40 miles to the west of London - was hit by Covid restrictions like everywhere else but the number of journeys on local bus services had been on the rise before the pandemic too.Reading is one of only five areas in England where the local bus company is owned by the council.Robert Williams, the chief executive of Reading Buses, says it means profits can be reinvested into services.“We're able to take a longer term view, we're not constantly being chased to make sure our profit margin is a certain level, because our brief is just to provide the best possible service we can,” he says.“You have local people that live and breathe the area, running the services and working out what should happen.

    “Setting that up from scratch is no quick job.”In Reading, he points out, the council has owned the local bus company for more than 100 years.Labour claims its plans would require no additional central government funding.But Mr Williams is sceptical over whether councils, which are facing huge financial challenges, have the money to set up their own bus companies at the moment.To improve services, he says, also requires investment.In Reading, he says bus services get very little subsidy from the council as it benefits from its location as a busy commuter town.“If we tried to replicate this in the middle of the countryside, we clearly wouldn't be able to sustain the same kind of network,” he adds.

    Paul Swinney, director of research and policy at the Centre for Cities think tank, says there are easier ways to achieve the benefits of greater control over bus services than full public ownership.

    If a company is publicly owned, it is the taxpayer that is taking on the risk if it goes bust, he points out.Instead, the think tank supports expanding the franchising system which is in place in London and has also been adopted in Greater Manchester.Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire are set to follow suit.Mr Swinney says under a franchise model councils and mayors still have control over bus routes and can ensure these are integrated into a cohesive network with other forms of public transport like trains.They can also keep hold of fares and choose to subsidise less profitable routes which are still vital for certain groups.Although he says this won’t necessarily make single journeys cheaper, it is easier to bring in daily caps across the whole network.The only difference to full public ownership is that it is private companies running the services.

    During the recent mayoral campaign, then-West Midlands Conservative mayor Andy Street attacked his Labour opponent’s plan to take buses back under public control, saying the party had not said where the money to do this would come from.Labour's Richard Parker, who won the contest, has pledged to build a "London-style integrated transport network" to make buses more affordable, reliable and frequent.

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  • That's funny. If somebody in Europe does it they're called Nazis.
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    Anti-migrant anger is mounting in impoverished towns like Jebeniana along the Tunisian coastline that have emerged as a launchpad for thousands of people hoping to reach Europe by boat.

    “You brought them here and it’s your responsibility to send them back to their home countries,” Moamen Salemi, a 63-year old retiree from nearby El Amra, said at the protest.

    A final stop for many who dream of a better life in Europe, Jebeniana and El Amra reflect the compounding problems facing Tunisia, a key transit point for migrants from Syria, Bangladesh and a variety of sub-Saharan African nations.

    Law enforcement has expanded its presence in the two agricultural towns, where roughly 83,000 Tunisians live among a growing number of migrants from around the world.

    Anti-migrant protests erupted in the city of Sfax last year, months after Tunisian President Kais Saied called for measures to address violence and crime he said were caused by illegal immigration.

    The International Organization for Migration’s Tunisia office has said roughly 7,000 migrants are living near Jebeniana and El Amra, though residents estimate the number could be much higher.

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  • Warning over rise in invasive species as public told to report Asian hornets
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    People are being urged to report any sightings of Asian hornets this summer as nature groups warn of a potential surge in damaging invasive non-native species.

    The UK’s chief plant health officer Nicola Spence has called for beekeepers and the wider public to be increasingly vigilant to the presence of the hornet after record sightings in the country last year.

    It comes as the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), which represents 83 nature organisations, warned that recent flooding and warming temperatures have increased the risk of problem species already in the UK growing and spreading.

    “Investment in a fully-funded inspectorate and a strong invasive species strategy could make a contribution to halting nature’s decline and creating a more resilient economy,” Mr Benwell said.

    It added that the National Bee Unit stands ready to respond quickly and effectively to any further possible sightings after attending every credible report last year and destroying 72 nests in 56 locations – mostly in Kent.

    “Through our Invasive Non-Native Species Strategy, we remain committed to going even further to detect, protect and eradicate the threats they pose, while increasing co-ordination and co-operation with the public, land managers and businesses to deliver this.”

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  • Scotland’s vulnerable marine life not properly protected, campaigners warn
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    Fragile and damaged marine life around Scotland’s coasts is not being properly protected because ministers in Edinburgh have broken their promises, environment campaigners have warned.

    They cite the government’s own seabed surveys and expert evidence about the damage from trawlers such as scallop dredgers fishing inside marine protection areas (MPAs) that Scotland designated in 2014.

    The crisis, triggered by Scotland scrapping its 2030 climate target, led to Humza Yousaf resigning as the first minister and his replacement by John Swinney, a veteran figure in the SNP.

    A rural MSP, she was a prominent critic of plans to set up a “world leading” network of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) last year, which would have banned inshore fisheries.

    Stuart Brooks, the director of conservation for the National Trust for Scotland, which owns Hebridean islands including Canna and St Kilda, urged ministers to implement Harrison’s recommendations.

    The Scottish government said it wanted to put management measures in place “as soon as possible”, but to do so with the correct evidence “for over 160 sites in the inshore area alone is a complex and challenging process”, a spokesperson said.

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  • Average British house price hits record high of £375,000
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    The average British house price reached a record high of £375,131 in May, according to Rightmove.

    Pent-up demand from would-be buyers who paused their plans last year is a key driver behind increased home mover activity despite mortgage rates remaining elevated for longer than anticipated, the property website’s report said.

    Rightmove anticipates the number of completed house sales this year to reach around 1.1 million, but said the lengthy time to complete a sale after finding a buyer remains a challenge for both agents and movers.

    The findings were released as property firm Hamptons said tenants renewing an existing contract in Britain typically saw their rent rise by an average of 8.3% over the 12 months to April, outpacing rental growth on a newly let property (6.4%).

    “The large gap between market rates and what many tenants are paying is a big disincentive for them to move unless they have to.

    “While time will eventually close the gap between what sitting and new tenants are paying, it may take longer if rental growth on the open market starts picking up again.”

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  • European far-right leaders gather ahead of EU elections
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    International far-right leaders, including France’s Marine Le Pen, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Argentina’s Javier Milei, came together in Madrid to rail against socialism and “massive illegal migration” three weeks before hard-right parties are expected to see a surge in support in June’s European elections.

    Orbán, who sent a video message, said it was time “for patriots to occupy Brussels”, adding that those in the Belgian capital were “unleashing massive illegal migration” and “poisoning our children with gender propaganda”.

    Le Pen, whose National Rally party is leading the polls in France, said she knew she could count on Vox’s support in the European parliament to “begin to reorientate” the EU.

    Milei hit back on Sunday, referring to the corruption allegations relating to the wife of Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s socialist prime minister.

    Sánchez, who has called the allegations baseless and the brainchild of his political and media opponents, recently took five days out of the public eye to reflect on whether he wished to continue in office because of the ferocity of the personal attacks on his family.

    Speaking on Sunday afternoon, Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, said the government expected a full public apology from Milei.

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  • Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too
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    ATLANTA (AP) — President Joe Biden on Sunday offered his most direct recognition of U.S. students’ anguish over the Israel-Hamas war, telling graduates of historically Black Morehouse College that he heard their voices of protest and that scenes from the conflict in Gaza break his heart, too.

    “I support peaceful nonviolent protest,” he told students at the all-male college, some of whom wore Palestinian scarves known as keffiyehs around their shoulders on top of their black graduation gowns.

    The speech — and a separate one he gave later Sunday in Detroit — are part of a burst of outreach to Black constituents by the Democratic president, whose support among these voters has softened since their strong backing helped put him in the Oval Office.

    He condemned Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants and noted that the class of 2024 entered college during the COVID-19 pandemic and following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

    The letter claimed that Biden’s approach to Israel amounted to support of genocide in Gaza and was out of step with the pacifism expressed by Martin Luther King Jr., Morehouse’s most famous graduate.

    The speech gave Biden a chance to reach thousands of people in Wayne County, which historically has voted overwhelmingly Democratic but has shown signs of resistance to his reelection bid.

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  • 3 teen girls expected to plead guilty in swarming death of Kenneth Lee in Toronto, court hears
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    Three teenage girls are expected to plead guilty in the swarming death of Kenneth Lee near Union Station in December 2022, court heard Friday.

    Three other girls, aged 15, 16, and 16, are expected to plead not guilty, court heard.

    Eight teenage girls were initially charged with second-degree murder in connection with Lee's death.

    Lee, 59, was pronounced dead in hospital on Dec. 18, after a group of girls downtown allegedly beat him and stabbed him in the early morning hours.

    A witness previously told CBC Toronto that the attack began after the girls allegedly took a liquor bottle from Lee and his friend.

    The identities of the accused cannot be released under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

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  • U.S. troops and equipment will leave Niger by mid-September, the Pentagon says
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    WASHINGTON — U.S. troops ordered out of Niger by the West African country's ruling junta will complete their withdrawal by the middle of September, the Pentagon and Nigerien defense officials said Sunday.

    The timeline was the product of four days of talks between the countries' defense officials in the capital city of Niamey, according to a joint statement.

    The plan is to remove all lethal, hazardous or classified equipment before the last U.S. troops depart, but items that are determined to be too expensive to fly out could be left for the Nigerien military to use instead, the officials said.

    The U.S. also will leave behind infrastructure it has built over the years to support the approximately 1,000 troops who have been based there to conduct counterterrorism missions, the officials said.

    A few months later, the ruling junta asked French forces to leave and turned to the Russian mercenary group Wagner for security assistance.

    The officials said they did not have indications that the Wagner group may end up increasing its influence over the Nigerien military in the absence of U.S. personnel,

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  • Machine Learning Researcher Links OpenAI to Drug-Fueled Sex Parties
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    A machine learning researcher is claiming to have knowledge of kinky drug-fueled orgies in Silicon Valley's storied hacker houses — and appears to be linking those parties, and the culture surrounding them, to OpenAI.

    What follows is a vague and anecdotal diatribe about the "dark side" of startup culture — made particularly explosive by Joseph's reference to so-called "consensual non-consent" sex parties that she says took place within the artificial general intelligence (AGI) enthusiast community in the valley.

    The jumping off point, as far as we can tell, stems from a thread announcing that OpenAI superalignment chief Jan Leike was leaving the company as it dissolved his team that was meant to prevent advanced AI from going rogue.

    At the end of his X thread, Leike encouraged remaining employees to "feel the AGI," a phrase that was also ascribed to newly-exited OpenAI cofounder Ilya Sutskever during seemingly cultish rituals revealed in an Atlantic exposé last year — but nothing in that piece, nor the superalignment chief's tweets, suggests anything having to do with sex, drugs, or kink.

    "I don't think events like the consensual non-consensual (cnc) sex parties and heavy LSD use of some elite AI researchers have been good for women," Joseph continued.

    "I just observed the surrounding AI culture through the community house scene in SF, as a fly-on-the-wall, hearing insider information and backroom deals, befriending dozens of women and allies and well-meaning parties, and watching many them get burned."

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  • The lunch rush is dead as Americans live for the weekend, office workers are pinching lunchtime pennies
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    The rise of hybrid work has kept many bars’ and restaurants’ lunchtime business from recovering to pre-pandemic levels, according to data the digital payments platform Square released Tuesday.

    Fast food chains are launching promotions to lure back diners turned off by price hikes, and alcohol brands are pushing canned cocktails as bar and restaurant menu tabs rise faster than grocery bills.

    “That’s been the largest transformation in the last four or five years — the consumer habits of office workers,” said Ara Kharazian, research lead at Square, which provides electronic payment systems used by many bars, restaurants and stores.

    Aceituna Grill, a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant in Boston, has seen lunch crowds shrink at the three locations it has operated since before the pandemic, especially those near offices for Bank of America and PwC, according to CEO AJ Kurban.

    The latter move was partly to comply with updated lease terms, and while Kurban said it’s too early to tell how it’ll pay off, he’s “expecting a positive impact.” At the Back Bay outpost, he added, “definitely weekends and nights are a lot busier there than any of our other locations.”

    Only one major market bucked the trend Square identified: In heavily residential Brooklyn — less known for its lunch rush than office-packed Manhattan — midday spending was down by a modest 0.3%, but weekend transactions were still 0.5% shy of the borough’s pre-pandemic level, too.

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  • U.S. and Saudi Arabia near potentially historic security deal
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    The United States and Saudi Arabia are "days away" from concluding the documents that would forge a historic bilateral agreement that has long been a top priority for President Joe Biden as it would begin a parallel track to normalize relations between the Kingdom and Israel, a source very familiar with the matter told CBS News on Sunday.

    Sullivan, who arrived in the region on Saturday, and other Biden officials also traveled to Israel on Sunday and are expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the proposed deal.

    A source very familiar with the Kingdom's position told CBS that Saudi Arabia has made clear that nothing can move forward without a two-state solution that includes Palestinian self-rule in both the West Bank and Gaza.

    Since that time Biden has frequently cited his belief that Hamas launched that brutal attack to stop his earlier attempts to forge a Saudi-Israel normalization deal that would not have prioritized the Palestinians.

    Biden administration officials hope that the politically embattled Netanyahu will view the significant security and diplomatic win of normalizing with Saudi Arabia as an opportunity and a reason to make a compromise on Palestinian issues despite the danger of alienating right-wing members whose support is critical to the survival of his fragile coalition government.

    Some of those nationalist right-wing ministers seek Israeli settlement and control of the Palestinian-majority West Bank and Gaza and refer to them in Biblical terms as Judea and Samaria.

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  • Demonstrators vow to disrupt DNC protest in Chicago with or without a permit
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    One protest with about two dozen demonstrators gathered outside Chicago Police District 18 on Sunday.

    They described themselves as a coalition that included local Palestinian organizers as well as survivors of police torture and brutality.

    These groups shared what they said was a joint struggle linked by billions in tax dollars used to marginalize their communities further, whether it's to fund what they call genocide in Gaza or mass incarcerations in the United States.

    Each of these demonstrations, they say, is designed to highlight particular demands of the coalition as they build support and grow in numbers on the road to the convention in August.

    His story of injustice serves as a source of motivation for what can happen when people mobilize.

    They recently withdrew an application with the city for a permit as a response to the removal of the pro-Palestinian encampment at DePaul University.

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  • The five-year journey to make an adventure game out of ink and paper
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    “I couldn’t walk away from the pen and ink thing,” says John Evelyn, creator of The Collage Atlas, a dreamlike storybook adventure recently released on Steam.

    “I liked all the incidental details and the accidents that come out along the way.” He compares it to improv music — “actually, sometimes it goes horribly wrong!” — but says that the feeling of getting into a stride and being surprised by unexpected outcomes was important to the whole game.

    The book, a follow-up to a self-published work called Asleep As The Breeze, was intended to explore themes of agency and the feeling of disempowerment that can come from traumatic or chaotic life experiences.

    Evelyn built on the app idea for a short art experience, which he exhibited at the Leftfield Collection at UK gaming convention EGX in 2016.

    Although he had experience and knowledge from a career that included time making Flash games, working in freelance illustration, and releasing music EPs, he also had a lot to learn.

    In order to convert illustrations to 3D, a process he had never done before, he began by creating the models in Unity before printing their maps and drawing in the details with pen.

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  • Sam Altman Clearly Freaked Out by Reaction to News of OpenAI Silencing Former Employees
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    Its reveal of the upcoming ChatGPT 4o — that's an "o" for "omni," not a "40" as in the number — was impressive on a technical level, but CEO Sam Altman made an unforced error by comparing the talking AI to the dark 2013 romance film "Her," kicking off a wave of negative headlines.

    It looks like the wall-to-wall criticism of all that has gotten under the skin of OpenAI's leadership, because the company's head is now in full damage control mode.

    Altman, as usual, is taking center stage in the company's response — though so far he's seemed to strategically focus on the equity side of the equation rather than the explosive claim that OpenAI is silencing former employees who might have ethical concerns about its work.

    Meanwhile, OpenAI president Greg Brockman published his own lengthy response to the situation — signed off by him and Altman — that managed to say very little in about 500 words.

    "So we need to have a very tight feedback loop, rigorous testing, careful consideration at every step, world-class security, and harmony of safety and capabilities.

    It's worth pointing out that neither of these statements get quite as far as the non-financial takeaway of Vox's reporting: are Altman and Brockman saying that former employees can now sound off about the company's approach to hot-button issues?

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  • Islamic State claims responsibility for gun attack that killed three Spanish tourists in Afghanistan
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    Islamic State has claimed responsibility after three Spanish tourists were killed when gunmen opened fire in Afghanistan's central Bamiyan province.

    The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that three of its nationals died in the attack and that at least one more had been injured.

    Islamic State's affiliate in Afghanistan is a major rival of the country's Taliban government.

    It earlier claimed an attack on Chinese citizens at a hotel in the capital Kabul in 2022.

    Bamiyan province is home to the remains of two giant Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban in 2001 and the region is a UNESCO world heritage site.

    Tourism in Afghanistan peaked in the 1960s and 1970s when the country formed part of the popular "hippy trail" route.

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  • College Professors Are Being Fired for Activism on Gaza War
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    There’s no official tally of the number of academic workers who have lost jobs or faced suspension over support for Palestine, not least because higher education in this country is disarticulated, often privatized, and reliant on short-term contract labor.

    “The bulk of our inquiries, even our cases, have to do with violations of due process related to non-reappointment, to dismissal, to tenure award, et cetera,” said Anita Levy, senior program officer with the American Association of University Professors.

    Footage capturing the arrests of Emory Philosophy Department Chair Noëlle McAfee and economics professor Caroline Fohlin, the latter who was slammed brutally to the ground by cops, was shared widely online.

    On his X account in mid-October, in the wake of stridently bellicose remarks from Israeli officials, Shaw wrote in a now-deleted post that Zionism “is beyond a mental illness; it’s a genocidal disease.” The target was unambiguously Zionist ideology and its adherents, not Jews for being Jewish.

    It really started to pick up after 1967,” Palestinian American scholar and author Steven Salaita told me by email, referring to the period of the 1967 Arab–Israeli War, a time when support for Israel was growing in the U.S. “Too many people to remember have been negatively affected.

    It was extramural speech — an essay for a leftist publisher — that earned a suspension from teaching for Jodi Dean, a tenured political theorist at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, where she has taught for 30 years.

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  • The Netherlands veers sharply to the right with a new government dominated by party of Geert Wilders
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    THE HAGUE (AP) — Anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders and three other party leaders agreed on a coalition deal early Thursday that veers the Netherlands toward the hard right, capping a half year of tumultuous negotiations that still left it unclear who would become prime minister.

    The “Hope, courage and pride” agreement introduces strict measures on asylum seekers, scraps family reunification for refugees and seeks to reduce the number of international students studying in the country.

    “We are writing history today,” Wilders proclaimed, saying he had made sure the three other coalition parties, including the one of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, had accepted the core of his program.

    With hard-right and populist parties now part of or leading a half dozen governments in the 27-nation European Union, they appear positioned to make gains in the bloc’s June 6-9 election.

    Speculation has centered on Ronald Plasterk from the Labor Party, who shot back to prominence this year when he became the first “scout” to hold talks with political leaders about possible coalitions.

    The group intends to continue supporting Ukraine and wants to enshrine the NATO standard of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense into law.

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  • At least 11 injured in overnight shooting in Savannah, police say
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    At least 11 people were injured during an overnight shooting in Savannah, Georgia, on Saturday, according to police.

    Police responded just before midnight to reports of gunfire in Ellis Square, the Savannah Police Department said in a news release.

    First aid was provided to the injured and several were transported to a hospital.

    Ten of the victims had gunshot injuries and the 11th had a laceration wound, Savannah Public Safety Communications Manager Neil Penttila told CNN on Sunday.

    The incident was one of three unrelated shootings in the area over the weekend.

    In total, 12 people were injured and two people, an adult male and a juvenile male, were killed by gun violence in Savannah this weekend.

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  • Ukraine launches 'co-ordinated strikes' against glide bomb Russian airbase - military source
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    Ukrainian forces have launched "co-ordinated strikes" against an airbase in southern Russia that is used to unleash glide bomb attacks on Ukraine, a military source has said.

    The operation, which took place overnight on Saturday, had "significantly reduced" Moscow's ability to use glide bombs against frontline Ukrainian positions, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The Ukrainian military source claimed this would "seriously impact" a Russian attempt to advance on the battleground town of Chasiv Yar, in the east of Ukraine.

    They are capable of launching munitions fitted with glide bomb technology that pose a huge threat to Ukrainian troops and civilians.

    "The degradation of this airfield and the capability it holds will mean that Russia's ability to bomb Ukrainian troops on the front line is significantly reduced," the source said.

    Explaining why Ukraine chose to target the airfield, the source said that it is used to conduct daily strikes on Ukrainian frontline positions, including with glide bombs.

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