Saturday, April 16, 2005


Adscam is a baby: Oil for Food

The Oil-for-Food program has been called the largest corruption scandal in history. Saddam collected something like $11 billion US from this scam. But it would have faded away if the Republican imperialists had not seen it as a chance to attack the UN. This is a little reminder that OIl-for-Food happened on America's watch. They don't like getting called on it.


Britain and America reacted angrily yesterday to accusations by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, that they were partly to blame for the oil-for-food scandal because for years they had overlooked the illegal trade in Iraqi crude.

Mr Annan, under fire for his son's role in the worst corruption scandal in the UN's history, made his comment on Thursday, hours after a British oil trader and his US and Bulgarian associates were indicted for paying millions of dollars in bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime to acquire Iraqi oil.

He pointed out that the Iraqi regime profited far more from illicit shipments of oil through Turkey and Jordan which, he said, took place with the almost certain knowledge of Britain and the US - the only countries with the resources to stop the sanctions-busters.

"The bulk of the money that Saddam made came out of smuggling outside the oil-for-food programme, and it was on the American and British watch," he told reporters.

"Possibly they were the ones who knew exactly what was going on, and that the countries themselves decided to close their eyes to smuggling to Turkey and Jordan because they were allies."

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, said Britain had helped maintain the international embargo on Saddam's regime and had intercepted shipments in the Gulf.

"The United Kingdom was consistently in the lead in seeking to enforce sanctions against Iraq," his statement said.

"The fact that the smuggling of oil was most likely to take place to Turkey and Jordan simply reflects the geography of the area. Jordan and Turkey have land borders with Iraq. Jordan and Turkey were primarily responsible for preventing smuggling across their borders."

But the Liberal Democrats said the government had questions to answer.

"It was no secret that smuggling was taking place and that both Turkey and Jordan were beneficiaries," its foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, said.

"Both the British and American governments have got questions to answer. What did they know and when did they know it?"

A US spokesman, Richard Grenell, denied that Washington had known of the smuggling and said there was a difference between illicit trading and a public "waiver" granted to some countries "before the oil-for-food programme even began".

The allegation has been around for years that Washington - which had ships in the Gulf to intercept smugglers - looked the other way while Jordan and Turkey profited from smuggled oil.

Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr went to Congress for waivers to allow Jordan and Turkey to continue receiving US aid despite evidence of sanctions-busting.

It is also widely acknowledged that the Iraqi regime earned far more from sanctions-busting - up to $11bn (£5.8bn) - than from bribes from oil companies working under the oil-for-food programme, which earned Saddam's officials an estimated $2bn to $4bn.

Mr Annan's comments were seen as evidence of his growing frustration at Washington, where the Republicans have used the scandal to attack the UN.

It has laboured under the scandal for more than a year, and Mr Annan's personal integrity was scrutinised by the independent investigation conducted by the former US reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

The committee is to publish its conclusions this summer, and they could lead to criminal prosecutions for bribery and sanctions-busting in several countries. (Link)


Friday, April 15, 2005


More on China-Japan

Just read it.


PS Jax's rule for predicting the future: Any prediction you make will happening in six months or it will not happen.

China is officially a great power.

The student demonstrators set off from Haidian, the university quarter of Beijing. They chanted anti-Japanese slogans and handed out leaflets to the crowd. Onlookers were moved to join them, and when the demonstration turned violent, the students were treated as nationalist heroes.

The year was 1919, the occasion the discovery that, under a secret agreement with the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles, the former German concessions in China would not revert to Beijing but be handed to Japan. Last weekend, students set off again from Haidian shouting anti-Japanese slogans. The demonstration ended with a violent attack on the Japanese embassy. Anti-Japanese resentment spilled over the next day into the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and in Shanghai two Japanese students were beaten up. The rising tensions of east Asia have spilled on to the streets.

There is a direct historical line between the students of 1919 and those of last weekend. In 1919, China was weak and humiliated, Japan an ascendant power that would soon invade and brutally occupy much of China. After Japan's defeat in 1945 there was no apology for the appalling slaughter of civilians in Nanjing, the germ warfare experiments or the sexual crimes against Chinese women. Japanese textbooks have continued to give a partial and one-sided account, but China - no saint when it comes to historical accuracy - did not protest. Under Mao, the history of the relationship was papered over in a show of friendship.

If the resentment is now back on the streets, it is because China's rise is shifting the geopolitical tectonic plates, offering a direct challenge to Japan's economic dominance of east Asia and to the strategic dominance the US has enjoyed, with its major ally Japan, since 1945. In the East China Sea, China and Japan have been facing each other off over fossil fuel reserves in 14,000 square miles of disputed waters. China has been drilling for gas in an area that Japan claims, and this week Japan announced to Chinese protests that it would license oil and gas drilling in the same waters.

Then there is the military dimension: the rapid modernisation of China's armed forces means that the long-standing judgment that China could not mount a successful invasion of Taiwan is no longer a reliable guide to the future. The US is bound by treaty to defend Taiwan and could once rely on the moral support of the region. But as the US loses influence, Japan is increasingly exposed as its most reliable military ally- one that the US is encouraging to develop a more robust military profile.

In the longer game of influence, China is gaining ground. While the Bush administration has been preoccupied with Iraq, China has been steadily expanding its clout in Asia. In Australia, South Korea and Thailand it is the dominant economic and strategic partner, and is securing its own trading relationships by building networks in which it will be central - the Boao Forum, for instance, is the Chinese answer to Davos but the invitees are overwhelmingly Asian. Beijing is the moving spirit behind the first east Asian summit, scheduled for Kuala Lumpur later this year. The US is not included. It is an influence that China will certainly use in the future. The proposition, for instance, that Japan be given a permanent seat on the UN security council has been greeted with thinly disguised scorn by China.

But there is a paradox in this jostling for position. If China, Japan and the US are competing for predominance, it is also true that each is dependent on the others to a degree unprecedented in history. Last year, Japan overtook the US as China's biggest trade partner. China needs the huge volumes of machinery and technology that are imported from Japan to feed industrial expansion. Japan needs the high levels of trade with China to keep its economy out of recession. China needs the US markets to feed its export-led boom, and the US is dependent on Beijing continuing to buy and hold Washington's mounting foreign debt. Major conflict would be serious for all three.

Why then, did China ratchet up the tension with last weekend's government-sponsored demonstration in Beijing? One answer lies in China's achilles heel - its internal weakness. Nationalism is the last shred of Maoist ideology for a ruling party that has abandoned its socialist roots. Since the party allows no political challenge, nationalism is also the only safe political outlet for new generations. To divert the political frustration of young Chinese on to Japan may seem like a safety valve for a ruling group nervous of the growing political frustrations of its population.

But it is a dangerous strategy, as subsequent events demonstrated. Rage lies just below the surface in China - a rage that breaks out in daily unreported incidents as disaffected citizens forcibly complain about their lot. The example of one government-sanctioned demonstration inspires others to try their luck. Before you know it, other resentments have exploded and the cities are restless. China can shut off the diplomatic provocation to Japan at will. Far more difficult is to shut off popular discontent. (Link)


Is a Chinese dragon waking up?

"Demonstrations need prior permission. Public displays of patriotism must be orderly, reasonable, and legal. Express your patriotic feelings in a right manner," - Shanghai Public Security

Are things spiralling out of control in China? I have no clue. It does look like the Commists have opened some sort of pandora's box.

I bet that the Chinese authories are scared shitless right now. This level of popular emotion can easily turn against the Communists. If they had opposed it from the beginning then they could clamp down like they have done to the Falun Gong, but because they tolerated/stoked these protests from the beginning they will have a much harder time putting them down. If they use force they will lose a lot of legitimacy.


The Chinese authorities are bracing themselves for further anti-Japanese protests which could become one of the biggest displays of people power there since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.

Internet activists are calling for demonstrations in more than a dozen cities this weekend, prompting the US embassy to issue safety warnings to its citizens, and raising doubts whether the communist government is riding or being swamped by the rising wave of nationalism.

In the past few days thousands of army veterans have rallied in Beijing for higher pensions, protesters beat up Japanese students in Shanghai, and villagers with machetes repelled 1,000 riot police in a bloody battle in Zhejiang province.

But the main target of public anger is Japan. Last weekend more than 5,000 protesters marched against Tokyo's approval of a new history textbook which whitewashes the country's wartime atrocities.

Some smashed the windows of Japanese restaurants, ripped down the posters advertising Japanese goods and stoned the country's embassy.

The Japanese consulate general in Shanghai advised its citizens to "be careful in remarks and behaviour in case of contact with Chinese people", and "avoid making provocative acts such as acting loudly in groups".

The US embassy issued a warning to its citizens which said: "The demonstrations are purportedly against Japanese interests, but could involve foreigners in general."

Instead of calling for calm, the two governments have intensified their war of words.

Tokyo has demanded an apology and compensation and its economics minister called China "a scary country".

Beijing blames Japan for the deterioration in relations. The prime minister, Wen Jaibao, said on Wednesday that China would oppose Japan's attempt to become a permanent member of the UN security council.

Such comments have emboldened the young organisers of recent anti-Japanese rallies. Nationalist websites and bulletin boards are calling for further protests to greet the Japanese foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, who flies in this weekend on a hastily arranged fence-mending mission.

According to one site, rallies are being planned on Saturday in Tiananmen Square and in the central districts of Shanghai, Tianjin and Hanzhou. There are calls for demonstrations in Hong Kong, Nanjing, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Jinan, Chengdu, Baoding, Changsha, Shijiazhuang, Nanchang, Haikou and Nanning on Sunday. Whether they will be allowed to proceed is uncertain.

The ambivalence of the authorities was apparent in an unusual text message recently sent out in the name of the Shanghai public security office by China Mobile.

"Demonstrations need prior permission. Public displays of patriotism must be orderly, reasonable, and legal. Express your patriotic feelings in a right manner," it said.

The Beijing police have issued a blunter statement on websites warning people that they will be punished if they join unauthorised marches.

The organisers of previous anti-Japanese protests told the Guardian that they have had more freedom to operate and more publicity since the current leadership team of President Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao took power in 2003.

Many analysts believe the communist authorities have stoked up or at least condoned the demonstrations to channel social discontent away from themselves and towards Japan.

"There is an uneasy collusion between the government and the protesters," said Linda Jakobson, senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

"The authorities may be worried that the protests could spill into something else, but if they wanted to stop the protests they could have done."

Asia's two most powerful states are intense rivals for regional influence, energy resources and territory, exem plified by Japan's announcement this week that it will prospect for gas in waters near East China Sea islands calmed by both countries.

But it appears to be the Chinese people rather than their government pushing the pace of the row.

"Compared to previous anti-Japanese protests, this is a very widely supported movement," said Wenran Jiang, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

"We must consider that as many as 30 million people signed a petition to deny Japan's UNSC bid."


Bombs are not good for children

Beautiful words.


A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now.

This, of course, comes as a bitter blow for all those of us who, like George Bush and Tony Blair, honestly believe that children thrive best when we drop bombs on them from a great height, destroy their cities and blow up hospitals, schools and power stations.

It now appears that, far from improving the quality of life for Iraqi youngsters, the US-led military assault on Iraq has inexplicably doubled the number of children under five suffering from malnutrition. Under Saddam, about 4% of children under five were going hungry, whereas by the end of last year almost 8% were suffering.

These results are even more disheartening for those of us in the Department of Making Things Better for Children in the Middle East By Military Force, since the previous attempts by Britain and America to improve the lot of Iraqi children also proved disappointing. For example, the policy of applying the most draconian sanctions in living memory totally failed to improve conditions. After they were imposed in 1990, the number of children under five who died increased by a factor of six. By 1995 something like half a million Iraqi children were dead as a result of our efforts to help them.

A year later, Madeleine Albright, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, tried to put a brave face on it. When a TV interviewer remarked that more children had died in Iraq through sanctions than were killed in Hiroshima, Mrs Albright famously replied: "We think the price is worth it."

But clearly George Bush didn't. So he hit on the idea of bombing them instead. And not just bombing, but capturing and torturing their fathers, humiliating their mothers, shooting at them from road blocks - but none of it seems to do any good. Iraqi children simply refuse to be better nourished, healthier and less inclined to die. It is truly baffling.

And this is why we at the department are appealing to you - the general public - for ideas. If you can think of any other military techniques that we have so far failed to apply to the children of Iraq, please let us know as a matter of urgency. We assure you that, under our present leadership, there is no limit to the amount of money we are prepared to invest in a military solution to the problems of Iraqi children.

In the UK there may now be 3.6 million children living below the poverty line, and 12.9 million in the US, with no prospect of either government finding any cash to change that. But surely this is a price worth paying, if it means that George Bush and Tony Blair can make any amount of money available for bombs, shells and bullets to improve the lives of Iraqi kids. You know it makes sense.


The Church and Aids Education

It is things like this that makes me so ambivalent about the Catholic Church. Are they trying cause a genocide?

( I should forgive them for persecuting the Cathars. It has been 750 years and they have apologized for a few other atrocities. It would be hard to apologize to the Cathars though, since they are all dead.).


The lives of Roman Catholics in some of the countries worst hit by HIV/AIDS are being put at even greater risk by advice from their churches that the use of condoms does not prevent transmission of the disease, according to a British television program.

If condoms cannot be absolutely guaranteed to block sperm, they stand even less chance of stopping the much smaller virus, the churches' argument runs.

The Roman Catholic church opposes any form of artificial contraception -- particularly condoms, which it says promote promiscuity.

But the traditional opposition is now being reinforced by arguments over their efficacy.

"The moral argument against the use of condoms is being superseded by a clinical argument which is flawed," said Steve Bradshaw, reporter on the BBC Panorama program "Sex and the Holy City" that will be aired in Britain on Sunday night.

"The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon," Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican 's Pontifical Council for the Family, told the program.

"The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom."

He said that just as health authorities warned about dangers like tobacco, so they had an obligation to issue similar warnings about condoms.

The Archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki told the program: "AIDS...has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms."

While in Luak near Lake Victoria, Gordon Wambi, director of an AIDS testing center, said he had been prevented from distributing condoms because of church opposition.

Bradshaw told Reuters the program team did not go out looking for the story, but stumbled across it during research.

"We heard the same line so many times from different people in different places that we decided to approach the Vatican," he said.

The World Health Organization, guardian watchdog of global wellbeing, rejected the Vatican view.

"These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million," the WHO told the program.

It conceded condoms could break or be damaged and permit passage of semen, but said they reduced the risk of infection by 90 percent and were certainly secure enough to prevent passage of the virus if not torn.

Panorama said scientific research had found intact condoms were impermeable to particles as small as sexually transmitted infection pathogens -- a view rejected by Trujillo.

"They are wrong about that...this is an easily recognizable fact," he told the program.

From Nicaragua to Kenya and the Philippines, the Panorama team found the same tale from the Catholic church -- that condoms can kill. (Link)



"There is more sheer larceny per square foot on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange than any place else in the world."
- Richard Ney, The Wall Street Jungle


Bush gets capacity to silence internal dissent

Thanks Luke for the tip on this story.

So as Luke pointed out the Bush adminstration has the capacity to organize a Kristallnacht. This must be comforting to everyone who has been harassed for opposing Bush. Alia Kate, age 16, who is on a no-fly list that includes everyone in her peace group. I cite this example simply because it is the first I find the story for. There are many more. And now Bush has the capacity to silence massive numbers of opponents at one time.

Remember this is the man that said "I told all four that there are going to be some times where we don't agree with each other, but that's OK. If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator,"


U.S. law enforcement officials captured more than 10,000 fugitives around the country in a week-long drive to round up some of the most violent criminals who had previously evaded justice.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Thursday a total of 10,340 fugitives were captured by an operation led by the U.S. Marshals Service between April 4 and April 10 -- about 10 times as many fugitives who were arrested the same period a year ago.

"Fugitives belong behind bars, and the arrests of 10,340 fugitives translates into safer communities," said Ben Reyna, director of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Operation FALCON, which stands for "federal and local cops organized nationally," marked the first time the marshals teamed up with state and local law enforcement in a concentrated, nation-wide effort to round up fugitives.

Previous coordinated roundups were on a regional basis and did not involve as many officers or agencies.

Officials said they did not have figures for how many federal, state and local fugitives still remained at large. But Gonzales said there was an "endless list" of fugitives.

"There clearly are bad guys out on the streets that need to be rounded up," he said.

"This was a very successful effort," he said. "More needs to be done, we understand that."

Gonzales said the 3,100 law enforcement officers who were on the street for the operation focused primarily on the most violent offenders who are wanted in their jurisdictions.

Top priority was given to arrest those involved in homicides, sexual assaults, gang-related crimes, kidnappings and major drug offenses.

More than 70 percent of those nabbed during the operation had prior arrest records for violent crimes.

"They have been free to roam the streets for far too long," said Gonzales. "We know from history ... that a fugitive with a rap sheet is more desperate, more predatory and more likely to commit the crimes that plague citizens and communities."

A total of 162 murder suspects, 553 rape or sexual assault suspects and 154 gang members were picked up during Operation FALCON. In addition, 638 of those arrested were suspected of armed robbery while 68 kidnapping suspects were detained.

But while the marshals reeled off their list of accomplishments, they also admitted that they were hampered because there is no complete, central depository in the United States for all warrants.

That is why it is difficult to keep track of how many fugitives were on the loose around the country. It also makes it difficult to disseminate information on wanted fugitives, in case they are detained for another reason outside the jurisdiction in which they are wanted.

"At some point it would be very important to get all warrants into (the national database)," said Bob Finan, the marshals' assistant director for investigations. (Link)


Media spin and homophobia

Thanks to Cathie for this story:

Way to slant the important news, guys.
Anti-Gay 'Day of Truth' Signs Up 1,150
Oh, and by the way, Pro-Gay 'Day of Silence' Signs Up 450,000.

Yes and the Day of Silence is 10 years old versus the Day of "Truth" which is new.



Update: Sgena/Calipari Shooting

The Americans want this to go away, the Italians want to investigate further.


Italian investigators have clashed with Americans over plans to absolve US soldiers of any blame for the death of the Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari, killed while escorting an Italian hostage out of Iraq last month.

The Italians are also unhappy that the US will not let them examine the car in which Mr Calipari was travelling when shot. The joint investigation is deadlocked and the dispute is holding up the final report on the incident. (Link)

The fact that the Americans are witholding evidence is not necessarily a sign that they have something to hide. It may be a way of speeding up the conclusion of the investigation. If they think that the Italians will take forever with the car, then they might withhold it to make the Italians cave on the topic. Or it could just be the American military defensing its privilege.

Either way it is going to hurt America's relations with Italy.


Rebellion in China

Okay, it is one town that has boiled over and beaten back the police. But it helps explain the textbook row. If the Chinese government makes alot of noise on some other issue then the world media may ignore this one. This was suggested and dismissed as a possibility in a earlier article that I posted.


There is a strange new sightseeing attraction in this normally sleepy corner of the Chinese countryside: smashed police cars, rows of trashed buses and dented riot helmets.

They are the trophies of a battle in which peasants scored a rare and bloody victory against the communist authorities, who face one of the most serious popular challenges to their rule in recent years.

In driving off more than 1,000 riot police at the start of the week, Huankantou village in Zhejiang province is at the crest of a wave of anarchy that has seen millions of impoverished farmers block roads and launch protests against official corruption, environmental destruction and the growing gap between urban wealth and rural poverty.

China's media have been forbidden to report on the government's loss of control, but word is spreading quickly to nearby towns and cities. Tens of thousands of sightseers and wellwishers are flocking every day to see the village that beat the police.

But the consequences for Huankantou are far from clear.

Having put more than 30 police in hospital, five critically, the 10,000 residents should be bracing for a backlash. Instead, the mood is euphoric. Children have not been to school since Sunday's clash. There are roadblocks outside the chemical factory that was the origin of the dispute. Late at night the streets are full of gawping tourists, marshalled around the battleground by proud locals who bellow chaotic instructions through loudspeakers.

"Aren't these villagers brave? They are so tough it's unbelievable," said a taxi driver from Yiwu, the nearest city. "Everybody wants to come and see this place. We really admire them."

"We came to take a look because many people have heard of the riot," said a fashionably dressed young woman who had come from Yiwu with friends. "This is really big news."

Although the aftermath is evident in a school car park full of smashed police buses, burned out cars and streets full of broken bricks and discarded sticks, the origin of the riot is hazy.

Initial reports suggested that it started after the death of two elderly women, who were run over when police attempted to clear their protest against a chemical factory in a nearby industrial park.

Witnesses confirmed that the local old people's association had kept a 24-hour vigil for two weeks outside the plant. Many said they had heard of the deaths, but no one could name the victims. The local government of Dongyang insists there were no fatalities.

Like many of the other disputes that have racked China in the past year, frustration had been simmering for some time. Locals accused officials of seizing the land for the industrial park - built in 2002 - without their consent. Some blamed toxins from the chemical plant for ruined crops, malformed babies and contamination of the local Huashui river.

The village chief reportedly refused to hold a public meeting to hear these grievances. Attempts to petition the central government also proved fruitless. Locals said they had lost faith in the authorities.

"The communists are even worse than the Japanese," said one man.

Memories are still fresh of the fighting on Sunday. "It was about 4am and I was woken up by an unusual noise," said a Ms Wang, a shopkeeper who lives next to the school where the fiercest fighting took place. "When I looked out of the window, I saw lots of riot police running into the village. Many men rushed out of their houses to defend our village."

Accounts of the conflict differ. Residents say 3,000 police stormed the village, several people - including police - were killed, dozens wounded and 30 police buses destroyed. But the Dongyang government says about 1,000 police and local officials were attacked by a mob, which led to 36 injuries and no deaths.

The outcome is also unclear. Locals say the village chief has fled. In his place, they have established an organising committee, though its members are a secret. This suggests a fear of recriminations, but the public mood is one of bravado.

"We don't feel regret about what we have done," said a middle-aged man. "The police have not come back since they withdrew on Monday. They dare not return."

Some, however, admitted to anxiety. Among them was an old woman - also a Mrs Wang - who reluctantly opened her doors to visitors who had come to see her collection of trophies from the battle.

"I am scared," she said, as she showed two dented riot police helmets, several empty gas canisters, a policeman's jacket and several truncheons and machetes. "This is getting bigger and bigger."

But there have been no arrests and no communication from the authorities. The current leadership will be keen to avoid a Tiananmen Square-style confrontation, including prime minister Wen Jiabao, who pleaded with the Tianan men protesters to leave before the tanks came. At the same time, the authorities are committed to social stability.

According to government statistics, protests increased by 15% last year to 58,000, with more than 3 million people taking part. In many provincial capitals, roadblocks occur more than once a week. Last weekend, anti-Japanese demonstrators rallied in three cities, including Beijing.

But in Huankantou, villagers do not seem to realise that although they have won the battle, they may be far from winning the war.

Amid a crowd of locals beside a wrecked bus, one middle-aged woman won a cheer of approval by calling for the government to make the first move towards reconciliation.

"It's up to them to start talking," she said. "I don't know what we would do if the police came back again, but our demand is to make the factory move out of the village. We will not compromise on that." (Link)


Your guide to life, the universe and everything

You can now connect you cell phone to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


The mobile edition has been made by the BBC rather than "the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor" who, in Douglas Adams' book, created the original.

Owners of smartphones and handheld computers will be able to access the guide while they are out and about.

The portable edition contains 7,000 articles from the H2G2 site covering life, the Universe and everything.

The original idea for Earth's very own version of the guide put together by anyone who had time to contribute came from Adams himself.

Mr Adams' own company managed the project in its early days but in 2001 the BBC took over and moved it to its current website.

In some respects the way that the H2G2 website was put together pre-figures the idea of the wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, that is also written, edited and checked by ordinary web users.

"Douglas Adams was years before his time," said Tony Ageh, BBC controller, Internet. "But thanks to modern mobile technology, what was once only a harebrained idea has now become a startling reality."

The mobile edition of the guide has been timed to coincide with the release of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film. (Link)

I am so looking forward to this movie. Only two more weeks...


Background: Why there is a furore over Japanese textbooks.

China and South Korea are angry about what is written in a history textbook that is used by less then 1% of students. This confrontation has been tense enough to damage relations between these countries. I have posted on why this issue is important to China, but why does Japan push this issue. If you know it is going to cause trouble, why do it. It is culture war between the nationalistic right against left (and everyone else as far as I understand). The nationalistic militant right that has decended from those who advocated Japan's imperial expansion. The equivalent in Europe would be if a Nazi publisher produced a textbook on World War II that whitewash the Holocaust and claim Alsace for Germany.


Every four years Japan's Ministry of Education assesses which textbooks make the grade to be used in its schools.

Its decisions have usually met with an outcry from neighbours China and South Korea, who regularly accuse the ministry of giving the nod to history textbooks that whitewash Japan's dubious World War II legacy.

But this time the Koreans and Chinese have had even more to be vocal about.

Coming hot on the heels of two separate disputes over islands that Japan claims as it own, but are also claimed by China and South Korea, the textbook issue has exacerbated already strained relations.

To Beijing and Seoul's gall, the Ministry of Education and its affiliate the Textbook Authorization Research Council has once again approved the "New History" textbook of right-wing publisher Fusosha.

The textbook refers to the 1937-38 Nanjing massacre, when Japanese troops killed an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people, by the more innocuous title of "incident".

It also explains that the country's actions during World War II were motivated by "self-preservation" and a desire to liberate Asia from Western control.

Particularly infuriating for South Korea was the Ministry of Education's decision to make four textbook publishers refer to a disputed set of islands - called Takeshima in Japanese, and Dokdo in Korean - as Japanese territory "unlawfully occupied by South Korea".

But while its neighbours claim that the Japanese history curriculum, and the latest textbooks in particular, are dangerous distortions of Japan's past, this is not a view shared by some Japanese.

In fact many right-wingers, such as prominent politician Shinzo Abe, have taken the opposite view and say that Japanese history textbooks fail to stress the positive advances and achievements that Japan has made.

And some critics have even claimed that the left-wing Japan Teacher's Union exercises an unduly "masochistic" and left-wing bias on the current curriculum, by overly dwelling on the country's wartime misdeeds.

They cite the recent refusal of some teachers to stand up and sing the national anthem as evidence of teachers' own left wing political bias in the classroom.

Whether the current curriculum has a right or left-wing bias or none at all, most teachers have shunned the controversial Fusosha textbook, which is used in less than 1% of Japanese schools.

And most Japanese remain unconvinced that history lessons have a bias in either direction.

"To be honest, I don't think our history lessons were or are biased," explained Yasuhiro Miyauchi, a 34-year-old product designer.

Indeed, despite the textbook furore, most Japanese have a very strong awareness about the continued influence that Japan's recent chequered history plays in its relations with two of its closest neighbours.

"Of course we learned about the Nanjing massacre, and we learnt it as a massacre rather than just as an 'incident' and yes, unfortunately, it still does have an influence on relations," Mr Miyauchi said.

But while older Japanese may be aware of their mixed historical legacy, some commentators think the country is also in the midst of a broader shift to the right.

They point to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which have inflamed strained relations with Japan's neighbours.

The shrine is said to house the souls, but not the bodies, of Japan's war dead, including a number of convicted World War II war criminals, and is seen as a symbol of Japanese nationalism by China and South Korea.

Some Japanese are worried that the present government's more nationalistic tone and its choice of approved textbooks may exert an undue influence on younger generations of Japanese.

Sayuri Inoue, a 27-year-old sales consultant, said: "I think that the problem is these books may have a bad influence on children in future, and the government is trying to put its opinions into children's textbooks and that worries me."

And the Ministry of Education seems more in chime with right-wing publishers such as Fusosha than at any time before.

Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama is also a prominent right wing member of the Japanese cabinet.

Just last November he remarked that textbooks being used in junior high schools contained passages about Japan's past that espoused a "self-torturing" view of Japan's modern history.

The problem is that Japan's history books do not just help define how Japan's next generation of school students learn to see themselves in the larger world.

They also define how its neighbours continue to see Japan - even if the citizens of China and South Korea, like most Japanese students, never actually get to see one of the controversial books.

History, it seems, can wear whatever face its masters wish it to. (Link)

If you want to read more on this topic, let me suggest a book called Japan Unbound. I would not recommend it too highly. Its good but not great, a journalistic work and not a scholar's work.


Businesses who want the "privilege" of paying taxes

You can tell the tax is a minor cost for the business. Becoming a bigger part of the state's political economy is much more important. I guess the business owners believe that paying taxes will mean less harassment from officials.


Nevada brothels currently pay taxes and fees to the local government but they do not give any revenues to the state.

A lobbyist for a brothel owners' group, which supports the taxation proposal, said they want the "privilege of participating" in the state tax system.

"I think it will give us some added acceptability," George Flint of the Nevada Brothel Association said.

"I think it will probably become money the state will be able to use and appreciate," he told the Associated Press news agency. (Link)


Thursday, April 14, 2005



Careful. We don't want to learn from this.

Bill Watterson (1958 - ) "Calvin and Hobbes"


Eco-porn? Saving the world one shag at a time.

This is a very Scandinavian idea. Very logical if you stop and think about it. Saving the environment takes money, porn makes money. Combine the two hand you have what these two have come up with.


Tommy and Leona are having sex on a tree stump in the middle of a Norwegian clear-cut. Leona, with a mop of brown dreads and a lip ring, looks dreamily across the demolished forest as Tommy, a little shaggy in nothing but a knit hat, works his magic.

A few minutes earlier, Leona and Tommy stood at the same spot lecturing about the evils of industrial forestry. But now they're moaning in feral ecstasy, overcoming the powerful negativity of the place -- the broken branches and dried-out logs -- with the juices of the life force itself.

Welcome to (FFF), a porn site with a difference. Along with raw, explicit images and videos with scenes like the one described above, FFF is well stocked with facts about the world's forests. On the Web site, naked sylphs share space with graphs of forest loss over time and exhaustive lists of the benefits tropical rain forests provide to society.

It's a novel approach to eco-activism, certainly, but one the duo hopes will help save the planet. Indeed, in its first year of operation, this unlikely project has raised nearly $100,000 for rain forest protection through the sale of paid memberships.

"Everyone must try to create something good using what they have," Tommy told me by phone from the apartment the couple shares in Berlin. "We had nothing, just our bodies." With backgrounds in progressive and green theater and teaching troubled teens, Leona Johansson, 21, and Tommy Hol Ellingsen, 28, wanted to do more than just protest the state of the world -- they wanted to make a difference. To them, eco-porn is the obvious choice. "Porn makes really, really a lot of money," Tommy continues in his soft Norwegian accent, "so why not use that money for good?"

Easy enough, right? But, so far, the pair's biggest challenge has been giving the money away.

It's a conundrum they didn't anticipate when they got their start in their native Norway, where they managed to obtain seed funding from the federal government. "We said we were starting an alternative environmental organization," says Tommy. (More)


Trust the Tories? More reasons not to.

I was reading Mike's writing at Semi Lucid Political Thoughts when one of his comments caught my attention:


Should parliamentarians be subject to the same laws as the rest of us
? Or are they somehow above the law, like BC Premier Gordon Campbell when he basically got off "scott-free" on his DUI charge in Hawaii a few years ago?

This week, Peter Mackay was given 2 back to back week-long driving suspensions for two separate speeding infractions last fall. However the judge agreed to postpone the suspensions until late May, when Mackay will be out of the country anyway, in Australia.

Should Mackay be trivializing his punishment like this, or should he be setting an example as the deputy leader of the party that wants so desperately to govern this country?

I have a big problem with legal immunity for politicians. Legal immunity seems to me to be a recipe for unaccountable and corrupt politics. If you can arrest the thieves then what is stopping them form election fraud. Imagine how much worse Adscam would be if the Liberals knew they could get away with it.

In addition, I wouldn't trust Peter McKay frather then I could throw him with both arms chopped off. Remember what he did to his argeement with David Orchard to not merge the PC's with the Alliance. Was the ink even dry?



The World needs more Canada

Ikram at the Path of the Paddle reports that the world is getting more Canadian. Specific he notes the Canadianness of the current seperatist rhetorica is Spain.


In Spain, President of the Basque province Juan Jose Ibarretxe has a plan. He's calling for a referendum on

a Basque Community "freely associated" with Spain on the basis of "shared sovereignty" ... joint Spanish and Basque citizenship independent Basque judiciary, diplomatic representation abroad, the right to call referendums on issues of self-determination and almost complete administrative control over the Basque country.

Soveriegnty and association? Where did Ibarretxe get that crazy idea? And how should the centre-left Spanish federal goverment respond?

Socialist Government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has countered with promises of regional reforms. These include making the national Senate more representative of Spain's regions and reforming the arcane system of regional financing

Senate reform? Reforms to the system of regional financing? What an innovative way to respond to a separatist threat. What does Spains right-wing opposition have to say?

A legal challenge in Spain's Constitutional Court is also a near certainty. Jurists on both sides of the debate acknowledge that the Ibarretxe Plan almost certainly contravenes the constitution, whose founding premise is "the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation".
A constitutional challenge to get "clarity" on the legal situation from the nation's highest court? Curioser and curiouser...


BC NDP get a hero candidate

Amongst the other things he has done:

Moh Chelali is nationally and internationally known for risking his life to help abort an assassination attempt on French President Jacques Chirac by a right wing Neo Nazi activist during the Bastille Day parade on July 14, 2002. (Link)


What about the Yuan?

Call it idle speculation but maybe it will be the Yuan and not the Euro that replaces the Dollar.


First, they said it must be devalued. Now they want it to be "revalued".

It was the eve of the 1997 Asian financial crisis when the world first raised the chorus for yuan's devaluation. The logic of the markets then: the economy is in a shambles and the banks have run up unmanageable debts; if the yuan is not devalued, Chinese exports would soon become too expensive to hold their position and foreign capital would stop flowing into the country.

The Chinese government then thought there was little to gain from devaluation. It would trigger another round of competitive devaluation from other Asian currencies, which would eat into the newfound advantage of the yuan. So Beijing decided to hold on to its fixed peg to the dollar and boost exports by cutting taxes on exporting companies so that commodity prices went down in dollar terms. The strategy won. Asian currencies stabilized, the dollar went slowly down vis-a-vis other Asian currencies and the new kid on the block, the euro.

The lesson that China learned was that with currencies, one should not lose one's head, even if everyone else in the market is losing theirs. This is a lesson worth keeping in mind amid today's chorus for revaluation. Pundits point at China's long-lasting trade surplus, the gains in its labor productivity, the bulging foreign reserves, the low inflation rate and the country's contribution to global growth to draw the conclusion that yuan is going too cheap. Among their many arguments: a can of Coke or a Big Mac in China costs half of that in the United States, hence the yuan must go up 20-40%.

Reams have been written on how billions of dollars of hot money are waiting in the wings for the revaluation before entering China. The pressure of this hot money is even more compelling than the threat of high costs for exports that a revalued yuan would entail. The central bank has to intervene to sterilize this money, and this puts further pressure on the banking system, already creaking under piles of bad debt.

One more bandied about suggestion is to broaden the exchange band and let the yuan shoot up by some 10%. But if that were to occur, it could well trigger bigger problems. Hot money would have one more reason to come in. Japan's economy is improving but it is still weak after over a decade of crisis. The US is doing well but question marks over its huge deficit and the weak dollar persist. The euro, trading now at about $1.3-1, doesn't represent a vibrant economy. The European economy in fact can't get moving past a lackluster 1% growth. The task of successfully digesting former East European economies into the main frame of a new Franco-German economic coalition will take years. All these destinations for international capital thus look gray if compared with China's 9.5% growth rate for the past quarter of a century. Given the country's steady growth, any revaluation of the yuan would only open the floodgates to hot money.

Moreover, China might not be ready for a huge flow of investment into or out of the country. Its stock exchange is, basically, a waste bin. It's the legacy of a time when the state used the share market to rip off small investors to finance non-performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs). But there was a moral angle to this rip-off: the SOEs were supporting workers and the social fabric of urban China. The state and the market needed reform and reform needed money, but there was none available. At the same time, there were lots of people making money, often walking in a gray line between legal and illegal in the shifting paradigm of China's economy in the 1990s. But this money was hard to invest because of the lack of investment tools and also because the aspiring investors were not too keen on explaining how they made that money.

So the stock exchange worked for both the investors and the state: it gave the state the cash for reform and investors an avenue to distil their ill-gotten money. Even if they were to be ripped off, they couldn't complain too much - the money was easy come, easy go. Thanks to the stock exchange, the state would reap the taxes these investors had evaded in the first place. Hundreds of SOEs were thrown into the market, to be treated more like gambling chips than long-term investment tools. The present stock exchange still retains many such companies that shouldn't have been listed in the first place or de-listed a long time ago.

Banks are in no better health either. Deposits vastly exceed investment, which means banks are failing to invest properly. The bank spread between interest on deposit (about 1%) and that on credit (over 5%) is huge. This problem of inefficiency of the banking system is much graver than the bad debt problem. Bad debt is the legacy of a time when banks served as the state's financial arm to deliver aid to the SOEs. These debts should simply be written off and included in state accounts instead. But if this is done without improving the efficiency of the banks, it would be of little help.

More serious than the problem of bank management is that of the quality of credit. Nobody in China will reveal to his bank how much money or property he owns. Banks are not known to keep such secrets, and squeal to the tax bureau and police. Whoever has any money in China didn't get it clean - "primitive accumulation" in Marxist terms. The Americans had slave trade, the Chinese a murky economy in which some made fortunes while others had their heads chopped off. China has had a muddled legal framework, where the line between the legal and the illegal has been a very fuzzy one. Almost everybody in China has done something not perfectly legal with his or her money. In the past, even subletting one's apartment could make one liable for persecution. Thus no one wants to volunteer information on their wealth to the banks and risk a police inquiry into past history. So banks are mainly left with SOEs as their main clients, no surprise then that half the Chinese money is cash circulating outside the banking system.

But money must go back to banks as cash transactions are clumsy and open to deception.. However, for banks to be trusted and not seen as conniving with tax and police officials, there needs to be some kind of an amnesty for past economic "crimes" - something that would pardon, say, tax evasion, but help isolate cases of drug trafficking. Free flow of foreign money in China before all this is done could destabilize the Chinese economy.

Moreover, there is the US. According to Chinese scholars, over 50% of America's daily consumer goods come from China. An appreciation of the yuan by 5-10% would push up prices by about 1%. Again, the dollar would go further down and the euro further up. One isn't sure if that would save any jobs in the US, but hot money rushing in and out of China could well disrupt the Chinese economy, and by extension global finances. China is not sure if it - or anybody else for that matter - would gain anything from this, apart from some currency punters. But it certainly would be in the interest of everybody, including China, to broaden the currency band by some 5% and slowly create a basket of currency to peg the yuan, a basket that also includes the yen and the euro. Anything short of this would undermine the stability of the yuan and threaten the world economy. (Link)


UN reform at the security council

Here is a big story I must confess that I was only mildly aware of.


The proposed expansion of the 15-member UN Security Council has been thrown into disarray once again - this time by a spirited political campaign to block the permanent membership of Japan, Germany, India and Brazil. It has underscored a fact that has become increasingly clear: expansion of the council from its current five permanent members simply is not going to happen.

The latest campaign is being led by a group of about 40 "like-minded" countries - headed by Italy, South Korea, Pakistan, Argentina and Mexico. All five countries publicly oppose any increase in permanent members and instead back an alternative proposal to increase the number of non-permanent members in the Security Council.

At present, the council has five veto-wielding permanent members - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia - and 10 non-permanent members elected every two years on the principle of rotating geographical representation.

Italy is livid that it is being shut out of the Security Council despite the fact that it has a claim for permanent membership equal to or better than that of Germany. As a result, Italy has expressed strong reservations about Germany's candidacy and is determined to scuttle Berlin's chances of joining the Security Council permanently.

On Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini was quoted as saying: "We don't think it would be useful to admit new permanent members unless it could be done with the widest possible consensus, which doesn't exist right now."

Argentina and Mexico, for their part, are peeved that their claims to represent Latin America have been overtaken by Brazil, the front-runner from that region.

Pakistan, a longtime rival of neighboring India, does not want see New Delhi elevated to the ranks of a permanent member. Although it is not publicly opposing India, Pakistan is against the expansion of permanent membership.

South Korea is critical of Japan's wartime past, and is currently in a dispute with Tokyo over historically symbolic islands midway between the two nations (see Japan-South Korea ties on the rocks, March 23). "A country that does not repent for its historical wrongdoings and that does not have the trust of its neighbors cannot play a leadership role in international society," South Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Sam-hoon, said last month.

All these countries, vehemently opposed to permanent membership, have formed a group called Uniting for Consensus, which held a meeting in New York on Monday.

Jim Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, said the grouping of countries opposing permanent membership is reminiscent of the Coffee Club led by Italy at the United Nations in the early 1990s.

"It's quite a powerful lobby," said Paul, who has been monitoring developments relating to the Security Council since 1994. Equally important but less noted is the very determined opposition of the existing five permanent members (P5) to expansion of any permanent membership, he said. "We have seen this, particularly with respect to China. The anti-Japanese riots in China last week [were] a bigger statement."

Paul also said there was a "write-in campaign" in China, where millions of signatures were gathered against Japan. In other words, the Chinese are able to say: "Look, our people just don't want this," he said. In China, this sort of campaign doesn't easily occur without the blessings of the government. "So that's important," he noted.

Last month, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan released a landmark 62-page report, "In Larger Freedom", described as a blueprint for restructuring the world body. The report backs a proposal made by a high-level panel on UN reform, which early this year called for two alternative models for a revamped Security Council:

  • Model A provides for six new permanent seats, none with veto powers, and three new two-year-term non-permanent seats, divided among Africa, Asia and Pacific, Europe, and the Americas.
  • Model B provides for no new permanent seats but creates a new category of eight four-year renewable-term seats and one new two-year non-permanent (and non-renewable) seat, divided among the four regional groups.

  • But last week, both the US and China were critical of Annan's proposals. The secretary general also decided to force the issue by setting a September deadline - to coincide with a summit meeting of world leaders in New York - for a radical transformation of the United Nations, and more specifically the Security Council. Both the US and China have opposed any "artificial deadlines", thereby undermining plans to revamp the Security Council.

    The reservations were a disappointment to Japan, Germany, Brazil and India, which had hopes of finding a permanent seat on the council table at least by the end of this year.

    China also rejected a proposal to force through any proposals that lacked "consensus". Paul said "consensus" is a code word that means: "Unless everyone agrees, we don't do it." This, he said, has "infuriated" the Germans and the Japanese, who were apparently confident of getting support from two-thirds of the 191 member states.

    He said the two countries may have lined up a two-thirds majority for a "framework resolution" calling for the expansion of the Security Council.

    "But there was no way in hell they would have got a two-thirds majority once they get down to specific names as permanent members," Paul said. This has always been the stumbling block - and will remain a stumbling block, he added.

    Paul said his own observation is that there may be strong support for "a slight increase in non-permanent members", as was done in 1965 when three new non-permanent members were added to the council - a sort of Model C, far different from Model B, he said.

    This may be the lowest common denominator that everyone could eventually agree on, Paul said. "It would be non-controversial and it would not weaken the domination of the P5." (Link)


    Great power games: Japanese textbooks

    This article supports the idea that the current row over textbooks between China and Japan is really part of a power play for regional dominance in East Asia.


    Here in Shenzhen from Hong Kong last Sunday with a couple of friends for some weekend shopping, I had the misfortune of bumping into a several-thousand strong anti-Japanese demonstration at a shopping center - a day trip wasted. Demonstrations had also been held the previous Sunday in this special-economic-zone city across the mainland border with Hong Kong.

    At that time, some Japanese (and for good measure, other) department store display windows were smashed, some items looted. This has been going on for the better part of the past two weeks, not just in Shenzhen, but in Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu and other places. Guangzhou seems to have joined in this past Sunday. Shanghai to date has been largely unaffected.

    The never-ending controversy over Japanese textbooks once again allegedly touched off the anti-Japanese protests; other issues apparently include Japan's effort to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the true ownership of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands, and claims to oil-and-gas rich undersea territory in the East China Sea.

    What struck me was the well-organized nature of the demonstration. A guy in a dark brown suit (no tie, though) diligently burned a Japanese flag; once aflame, it was quickly doused by another protester prudently equipped with a fire extinguisher. Then there was the designated hitter/screamer - a fellow wielding a broom stick (which, unbeknownst to me, may have some marshal arts significance) who - carried aloft by two stout men - delivered vicious blows with both ends of the stick to the head and body of a puppet of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi carried by a guy wearing a protective motor cycle helmet. And then there were the "riot police", accompanying the protest march more like parade marshals at New York's St Patrick's Day parade up Fifth Avenue.

    We thought we'd ask some of the protesters - more like revelers, actually - what this was all about. "Whitewash," said one of them (in English) and repeated the word several times over, presumably referring to the alleged whitewash of Japanese war crimes against China in present-day textbooks. "They [the Japanese] are too arrogant; we can't take it any longer," said another. How did they know about the "whitewash"? They were told about it in their work unit. Where did the Japanese flags come from that were ceremoniously burnt? A guy handed them out when they boarded the bus that took them to the demonstration.

    I can't vouch for it that the Beijing demonstrations were as contrived and carefully staged. But people picking up rocks on cue as TV cameras focused on them and making quite a show of hurling them at the windows of the Japanese Embassy while "riot police" looked the other way strongly suggest it - and suggest the same organizers of the spontaneous anti-Japanese outpouring.

    Sunday noon, Asia Times Online's Chinese-language sister publication (along with most or all Chinese media outlets) received an instruction from the Communist Party's central publicity department (via provincial propaganda units) to black out completely any and all reports of the protest rallies. Publications staff were, however, permitted to join the demonstrations if they saw fit.

    The obvious question is, why was all this cooked up, for what purpose, and why now? There are no convincing answers, and it's in the nature of such contrivances that the originators won't talk. One thing, though, is quite certain: the Chinese claim (at vice foreign minister's level) that Japan is to blame for the unrest is absurd. Sure, Koizumi has insisted on visiting Yasukuni Shrine (war memorial were the remains of several convicted and executed Japanese war criminals are interred) every year. Sure, the textbooks are an issue. And, yes, the Japanese are not the most repentant of souls when it comes to their actions in World War II.

    But after seeing what I saw in Shenzhen, I know that the Chinese government and/or Communist Party got this thing going and kept it going. Students might do this sort of thing on their own. They certainly did at Tiananmen in 1989. From the looks of it (the TV pictures), students were involved in the Beijing demonstrations. But in Shenzhen there are no students. It's a special economic zone chock full of contract workers from all over China, working in factories or - per chance - in brothels. And don't tell me this is an arrogant "elitist" view and that factory workers are as capable of being indignant about the historical wrongs done to the nation as university students!

    The questions remain: why and why now?

    To be systematic about it, there seem to be three possibilities: 1) the government wants to divert attention from pressing domestic problems; 2) Communist Party factional issues are fought out in a strange arena; 3) Beijing wants leverage to stoke up nationalist fervor for international gain. Neither 1) nor 2) can be entirely ruled out.

    While the anti-Japan protests were going on in Beijing and other cities, villagers in Zhejiang province did battle with police (and won!), protesting operation of a chemical plant on land appropriated from them by local authorities. Similar such protests over land, taxes and so on have been erupting regularly over the past several years. Still, they do not appear to pose a serious or immediate threat to governmental authority. It has also been noted that Shanghai did not participate in the protests. But it would seem quite a stretch to construe an ongoing factional quarrel between former party chief and state president Jiang Zemin and his successor Hu Jintao out of that.

    That leaves international leverage - and that certainly appeared to be the message when Premier Wen Jiabao told Tokyo on Tuesday that it must squarely face up to history. "The strong reactions from the Asian [sic] people should evoke deep reflections by the Japanese government," Wen said, adding, "Only by doing so [facing up to history] can it exert greater responsibility in the international community."

    Japan is lobbying to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Wen is telling Japan, shape up if you want "Asia's" support. Note, he didn't say China's. Beijing is challenging Japan for economic leadership in Asia. And Beijing wants to be the acknowledged leading and unchallenged regional power. That appears to be the message. As for the vehicle for conveying it, the issue of distortion of history doesn't seem the best choice. The distortions that litter Chinese history from 1949 till now are too many to count. (Link)


    Betting on papal names

    Without knowing the identity of the next pope, it is hard to guess which name he will pick -- but that hasn't stopped Dublin bookmakers Paddy Power from opening betting on it.

    A surprise choice -- Benedict -- leads the pack ahead of John Paul and John, mostly because someone has placed an unusually large bet on it, company spokesman Paddy Power said.

    The choice of Benedict could signal a subtle shift to more moderate policies, judging from the way the Benedict XV turned away from Pius X's rigorous anti-modern stand, Pham said.

    "We were surprised because we thought John Paul or John would certainly be on top," said Power, who had no explanation for Benedict's popularity.

    "There seems to be some connection between Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger and the name Benedict," he said, referring to the former Paris archbishop deemed too old to be in the race.

    "The same person who put a big bet on Lustiger also bet big on Benedict." (Link)


    Who should lead the world?

    World public opinion is shifting. America is losing its luster and Eurpoean is gaining at its expense. The leadership that America has enjoyed because of its political ideas is gone, burnt away by the unilateralism of the Bush administration


    PS And this is a surprise to who?

    This is two excerpts from a longer article.

    At the press conference announcing the poll results, Brookings scholar Philip Gordon offered an anecdote to sum up exactly why this latest piece of data is far more worrisome than previous surveys tracking our plummeting global image. For the past decade, Gordon has asked each new batch of 150 international students who take his international relations course at a French business institute the same two questions. First, how do you feel about U.S. power? Perhaps predictably, they always give the thumbs down to the United States and the thumbs up to multilateralism. But when he follows up with the next question -- what country other than the United States has more responsibly wielded global power in the past, or could do so in the future? -- they invariably come to the same conclusion: better America than anyone else.

    But not this year. While the resentment of U.S. power and domination was the same as ever, according to Gordon, the students were no longer willing to give the United States its usual pass for its excesses. What's more, they were only too happy to contemplate the alternatives that Gordon offered. "And they would say, yeah, we'd take China. Germany? Yeah, Germany is fine. France? Yeah, that would be good," he said. "They were looking at me like, well, of course, we'd rather have those countries more powerful than the United States."

    The most astonishing fact revealed by the new poll is that 34 percent of Americans agree that Europe should be running the show. Let me repeat this: one-third of Americans want Brussels, not Washington, to be calling the shots on the global arena. This trend is a good bit more significant than the six-fold increase in traffic to the Canadian immigration website immediately after the November elections. It buttresses the findings of previous polls that have shown clear majorities of Americans dissatisfied with U.S. unilateralism (and a much higher rate of disapproval of U.S. foreign policy in other countries).


    PIPA's director Steven Kull attributes the poll results to different perceptions around the world toward how the United States and Europe go about their global business:

    [Europe has] exerted a magnetic attraction on those around them, such that countries are waiting in line to become part of the European Union. It has put pressure on countries, such as Turkey, to improve their human rights records, to raise their standards in terms of corruption, transparency, and their capacity to integrate into the world economy. The way that Europe has done this has been positively viewed.

    The secret of Europe's appeal becomes even cleared in a comparison with the United States. As Tony Judt recently

    pointed out in the New York Review of Books, Americans work more hours, live shorter lives, and are much more likely to be poor than their European counterparts. The American economy is considerably less worker-friendly, more in debt, and increasingly owned by foreigners. The categories where the United States is the undeniable leader ­ military budget, government debt, trade deficit, automobile size ­ are dubious achievements. It's not just Judt, but several popular new books by respected experts, including Jeremy Rifkin and T. R. Reid, that hammer home these unappetizing facts.

    The U.S. media may not have noticed it but Europe is looking more and more like the winning team. (Link)


    Values and morals in Canada

    Is this man trying to bring the U.S. culture war up here. Probably. beccause conservatism is getting its ass kicked up here


    Klaus Rohrich - As and adjunct to my column last Monday, wherein I take voters to task for the quality of our government, I’d like to talk about Canadian values. Over the years I often hear politicians talking about what Canadians want. Alexa McDonough was famous for starting her rants with "The people of Canada want/do not want…" and then telling us what she did/did not want. Another famous expert on Canadian values is the current Prime Minister, Paul Martin, who during last year’s election campaign positioned himself and the Liberal Party as being synonymous with true Canadianism. Conversely his references to the Conservatives’ "hidden agenda" were clearly indicative that they were the exact opposite.

    If you what to know what Canada's values are please allow me to recommend two books: Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values and The New Canada : A Globe and Mail Report on the Next Generation. The two clearly demonstrate that Canada is what the Liberals and NDP describe: tolerant, individualistic, and culturally curious. People who don't like to be told what they can and can not do. This is the main thing that Klaus here doesn't get. Canadians hate to be bossed around by authority figures, particularly religous ones.

    I recall numerous voters talking about how Stephen Harper and the Conservatives "scared the hell" out of them because of their leaders’ religious beliefs. Interesting concept. People who hold essentially moral beliefs "scare the hell" out of us, while those who nihilistically believe in nothing but hanging onto power are representative of Canadian values.

    The rest of us also have a moral code. It is different then the one put forward by the religous dogmatists. We do not consider it moral for other people to command our lives. For example: It is immoral for the state to control a woman's reproductive life. An other exaple: It is immoral to tell two people who are in love that they cannot marry. Harper and the conservative "scare the hell" out of us because they do not share our values. To us their behavior is immoral because it is intolerant and authoritarian. Two things Canadians can not accept.

    The columnist Mark Steyn recently made an interesting point. Writing in The Western Standard, Steyn postulates that had the Quebec separatists of the 1960s opted not to reject Catholicism, Quebec’s dominant religion, then quite possibly la belle Province would be la belle country today. The reason it isn’t is that rejecting religion and its attendant moral teachings has resulted in Quebec having the highest number of abortions and the lowest birthrate of any jurisdiction in North America. So when the time to hold the referendum came around, there weren’t enough young Quebecers to carry the day for the separatists.

    If Quebec had not rejected the Catholic Church there would be not seperatism, because the church is a force for pacifying the francophone majority so the anglophone minority could continue to run the province. Hence Mark Steyn doesn't know his Quebec history. Since he writes for the Western "Lets end human rights" standard this may not be a surprise.

    Steyn’s point is that had Quebecers not discarded the moral teachings of the church, there would have been fewer abortions and more births, meaning that there would have been a lot more young Quebecers who might have voted "oui".

    It’s not a stretch to see how this could apply equally to the rest of Canada. In the new, improved Canada, Canadian values are represented by high welfare rolls, intrusive government, the destruction of our traditional culture in favour a multiculturalism, reduced productivity, high taxes and a steep decline in the birth rate. The luminaries who are creating this brave new country deem embracing old-fashioned ideals "reactionary". Hence anyone espousing conservative values, or religious beliefs, or traditional family values must, by definition, have a "hidden agenda".

    High welfare rolls? I guess he must have missed the last decade. intrusive government? You mean government that would poke its nose in the love affairs of Canadians, i.e. ban same-sex marriage. The destruction of our traditional culture? the racist culture that calling women "incorrigible" and locking them up for years for sleeping with their lovers (especially if it was interracial). the traditional culture that sent thousands of Jews back to german death camps. Is this what we should be proud of. Is this what we should defend? I say good riddance. Reduced productivity? When has our productivity gone down? High taxes? Only if your wealthy, lower and middle class Canadians has comparible if not lower tax rates then most of the U.S. And low birth rate? Has this goof not realized that there are too f**king many of us on this planet. We can choose to get our population under control by lowering our birthrate, or it will be done for us war, disease, famine and genocide. I vote for low birthrate it seems more reasonable to me.

    It’s also interesting to note that the voters of Ontario who are responsible for the Liberals getting re-elected would prefer to choose a government that has no values, rather than one that has traditional values. We've covered this. Your values don't match those of the rest of the country. This week’s polls showing that the Liberals and Conservatives are neck in neck is living proof. Despite all the smoking guns stinking up the Gomery inquiry the Liberals are at the same level of popularity as the Conservatives. Some Toronto radio stations were carrying the usual man-in-the-street interviews, which yielded an embarrassing array of moral bankruptcy. Many of those asked thought that the conservatives may not yet "be ready" to govern. Some thought that this scandal was Jean Chretien’s scandal, despite the fact that Paul Martin was in control of the government’s purse strings. I’m wondering what it would take for Torontonians to finally get fed up with the Liberals; being sold into slavery?

    I can answer Klaus's question. What do Torontians need to get fed up with the Liberals? An alternative that isn't racist and homophobic. An alternative that shares their values.

    I bet that downtown Toronto will elect a green before a conservative.

    It appears that Canadians, particularly those living in the Greater Toronto Area, enjoy being robbed and lied to by their elected officials, which is either indicative of a serious guilt and self-loathing problem or a terminally compromised moral compass.

    Canadians consider themselves morally superior to Americans. Who knows, maybe they are. But if Canada’s birthrate continues to hover at its current 1.48 births per woman, there soon won’t be any Canadians left to feel superior. As a nation we would be well advised to carefully examine the hogwash the Liberals have been feeding us about Canadian values these past 12 years. Under close scrutiny it appears that having "Canadian values" means having no values at all.

    Only to blind hack fanatics like Klausy here. Close scrutiny show a people that are willing to sacrifice for their beliefs. Having your money stolen by a government is a sacrifice. We know it, but it is how we have defended what we believe in: freedom and tolerance. Exactly what the Conservatives want to take away.

    I almost forgot, here is the link.


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