They're the kind of citizens any cash-starved government would want: a group of wealthy Germans have launched a petition this week calling for higher taxes on wealthy Germans. The group claims that Germany could raise €100 billion if the richest people paid a five percent wealth tax for two years.
Germany is not known as a low-tax country--tax revenues were 37% of GDP in 2007, in line with other EU countries, and above countries like South Korea (29%) and the United States (28%). The petitioners claim, though, that those who "made a fortune through inheritance, hard work, hard-working, successful entrepreneurship, or investment" should put their money into an economy that, while better off than some other EU counterparts, is still facing rising unemployment through next year.
But deficit hawks shouldn't start dreaming of a shift in worldwide tax perceptions: the petition has fewer than fifty signatures, and, after their most recent rally, one signatory told the AFP that it was "really strange that so few people came."
It's 1993. The Oslo Accords have just been signed, and your wealthy Palestinian family has money for new business ventures. Why not a brewery?
Yes, fifteen years on from its official founding, Taybeh Brewery is still going strong. The conditions may not be ideal: as the Guardian points out,"the population is predominantly teetotal Muslims. It operates in bleak economic conditions, with high unemployment and the extra costs and challenges of dealing with the checkpoints and delays that make up Israel's military occupation. And, on top of that, they have to market their Palestinian beer to Israeli customers."
But the brewery, run by Nadim Khoury, who learned to brew beer at home while living in the US, has overcome these obstacles and even harder times (business almost completely died off during the Second Infitada) on its way to being the first Palestinian product in Germany, and a popular beer in Japan. Their latest venture is a non-alcoholic variety marketed at young Palestinians. With the Palestinian economy recovering slightly, Khoury hopes the brewery can continue to show that "we have a right to enjoy life. Enough is enough with the fighting."
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Two days into its new government, the Democratic Party of Japan is wasting no time setting new policies for the country. Yesterday, the Defense Minister suggested a withdrawl from Afghanistan; today, the country looks set to suspend use of the death penalty.
The new Japanese Government has in effect suspended the death penalty by appointing an outspoken opponent of capital punishment as Justice Minister.
Keiko Chiba, 61, a lawyer and former member of the Japan Socialist Party, has the final say in signing execution orders for Japan’s 102 death row inmates.
Although she has declined to say explicitly whether or not she will authorise them, her 20-year-long record as a death penalty abolitionist makes it a certainty that hangings will be put on hold.
The article goes on to note that the United States would now be the only "industrial democracy" to still use capital punishment. However, a look at Amnesty International's list of "retentionist" countries does show that the death penalty remains on the books in several of the largest developing nations, including India and China. Those looking for meaningless correlations should also note that other "retentionist" countries include North Korea, Chad, and Sudan.
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Today, FP's front page has an excellent article from Amjad Shuaib on the crimes and fall of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. As Shuaib notes, the Pakistani Supreme Court's decision this past July to declare Musharraf's state of emergency proclamation unconstitutional means "he may be tried for treason -- and possibly executed."
With that threat hanging over his head, one might expect Musharraf to escape to a remote island hideaway, or at least somewhere where he couldn't easily be found. Not so: instead, according to the Guardian, he's holed up in "an unassuming three-bedroom flat behind the shisha bars and kebab joints of London's Arabic quarter." Unconstitutional seizure of power aside, the only controversy Musharraf is attracting in Britain is his taxpayer/Scotland Yard-provided security detail. And while he lives decently well, the apartment is a far cry from the "Park Lane penthouses" his rival Nawaz Sharif used to own.
Still, Londoners who don't want the dictator hanging around will get their wish after this week: "he starts a 40-day lecture tour of the US next Tuesday."
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The American military withdrawal from Iraq has led to an uptick in violence, and now life is getting even more difficult for many Iraqis. More than 2 million in the south are expected to be victims of a severe water shortage, "described as the most critical since the earliest days of Iraq's civilisation."
Iraq has experienced droughts before, including severe ones 10 years ago and just last year. But the damage of below-average rainfall for two winters in a row has been exacerbated by a number of new dams built in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, sucking dry the once-mighty Euphrates River that has provided the region with water for centuries. Iraq's huge marshes are in even more danger of drying up than they were under Saddam Hussein, who purposefully drained many of the marshes as a punishment to the residents.
The loss of water will not just hurt farmers, either. The city of Nasiriyah has lost two of its four power generators because of falling river levels, and may have to shut down the other two if the river continues to fall. While a wetter winter may help in the future, only a water policy reversal by Iraq's neighbors can stop future droughts.
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For years, tourists in China have been showing friends back home amusingly bad translation of Chinese into English. The Internet has only accelerated this trend, with more and more hilarious examples being chronicled by the day.
But with next year's World Expo fast approaching, the host city Shanghai--which is spending more money than Beijing did for the 2008 Summer Olympics--is cracking down on these silly translations:
The Shanghai government, along with neighbouring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, published a 20-page guide book this week to standardise signs and eliminate notoriously bad, and sometimes amusing, English translations.
"A number of the English translations are quite baffling, others are simply awkward," Xue Mingyang, director of the Shanghai Education Commission, was quoted as telling the China Daily.
As the AP article notes, Beijing also tried this in 2008, but had to give up, as the task was too big. Interestingly, while poor translations will always be incorrect, Asian phonetic differences, such as the non-distinction between Ls and Rs, could be the next big changes in the English language: last year, researchers suggested that the next century will see English be replaced in many countries by "Panglish," combining English with phonetic and grammatical structures from languages such as Tamil,
Singaporean Malay, and Mandarin.
The Japanese have been as cautious as any nation in trying to avoid swine flu Even before the first case was diagnosed in May, many Japanese were wearing masks overseas, and after the disease spread to the island, thousands of schools were closed, and testing centers were overwhelmed.
And while the thorough response has done little to halt the disease--three people have died from the virus, and on Wednesday the health minister announced a higher number of cases than expected--even politicians are taking a bold new step to prevent infection: ditching the handshake.
[C]andidate Denny Tamaki is playing it safe. "Shaking hands during an election campaign is key, so this is pretty troubling," Tamaki told the Yomiuri Shimbun.
"It would be bad if I get infected myself and then pass it on to older people with weaker immune systems," said Tamaki, whose home island of Okinawa has been hit hard by the flu.
Meanwhile, students at the British International School in Shanghai are probably glad they set their world handshaking record when they did.
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King Mswati III of Swaziland (above, in traditional dress) is Africa's last absolute monarch, and, not surprisingly, has a huge amount of wealth at his disposal. Using it to send his wives on multimillion dollar shopping sprees has, shockingly, not gone over well, despite the inherent dangers in criticizing the king's life:
Reports from the kingdom said that the king had dispatched at least five of his 13 wives and dozens of retainers to France, Italy, Dubai and Taiwan on a secret tour last week, using £4 million from the state budget. In Swaziland it is a criminal offence to criticise the king’s private life.
Both the king's profligacy and his large number of wives have been points of controversy in the past. In April, Mswati bought 20 armored Mercedes cars for £150,000 each, and once attempted to buy a $45 million jet (more than twice the country's health care budget). Meanwhile, the tradition of the king marrying multiple wives has been under fire in the past decade, twinned with a push for more women's rights.
PABALLO THEKISO/AFP/Getty Images
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