In Japan, it's becoming increasingly popular to hire actors to fill out the crowd at events like weddings and funerals:
Agencies such as Hagemashi Tai - which means "I want to cheer you up" - charge around £100 for each "guest". Other services such as giving a speech in praise of a bride or the groom cost extra. [...]
Office Agents, the largest provider of pretend friends, makes sure that its employees have done their homework and know all about the bride or groom before the wedding.
Hiroshi Mizutani, the company's founder, said the fake friends he provides must look happy, be well dressed and look like people with good jobs.
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.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Japan's voters have handed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party an unprecedented beatdown in the country's lower-house elections, meaning the opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- long the Washington Generals, if you will, of Japanese politics -- is coming to power. It's only the second time the LDP has been ousted since World War II.
What does it mean? We'll have more on that in a bit (and you can read smart takes on the subject by Tobias Harris [twice!] and Dov Zakheim), but my view is that's it's a healthy development for a country that has never been quite as democratic as most of us assumed it to be. Japanese voters have finally punished the ossified LDP for its economic management and arrogance ignoring their everyday concerns, and it's punishment well deserved. And as an editor, anything that makes Japanese politics more interesting is welcome.
The U.S. State Department has issued a statement congratulating the DPJ on its win and pledging "close cooperation" with the new government "in moving toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, addressing the threat of climate change and increasing the availability of renewable energy, bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and addressing international humanitarian and health issues," among other top priorities.
But will the DPJ be as easy to work with as its predecessor? Yukio Hatoyama, the likely new prime minister shown above, wrote last week in a frankly loopy New York Times op-ed that Japan would "aspire to move toward regional currency integration," making headlines around the world. He said it would probably take at least 10 years to accomplish, after which the goal would be EU-style "political integration" of the region. Hatoyama also made clear that he views the United States as a declining power and that Japan would be taking a more independent line in foreign policy.
We'll see if he carries it out. More on this later.
UPDATE: Jeff Kingston weighs in from Japan with his expert take on what the DPJ's win means for Japan and the world. He argues that Tokyo's new government may have a lot more trouble on the economic front, and a lot more success in foreign policy, than most folks think. Check it out.
... Tobias Harris has more.
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Funny story from Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's early days in the foreign service:
Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat and self-avowed Sinophile, told students at the Australian National University about an error he made as a junior envoy in Beijing.
"Apparently, what I'd said as I sought to elevate his expression into a more classical form, was that China and Australia are currently experiencing fantastic mutual orgasm," he said, delivering a speech late Thursday.
"Ever since then, our Chinese friends have remembered my visits to Beijing, (saying) 'Ah, you were the one...'," added Rudd.
"Perhaps that explains some of the challenges in our current relationship with the Chinese."
Chinese-Australian relations have been somewhat less than orgasmic lately.
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.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president and husband of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited North Korea. He met with dictator Kim Jong-il and secured the release of two American journalists who had been held there for months.
This past weekend, Sen. Jim Webb traveled to Myanmar on a trip through Southeast Asia. Webb -- who likely knows more about the region than anyone else on the Hill -- has long criticized U.S. sanctions on Myanmar. He met with the head of the country's military junta and leading dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. And he secured the release of an American who had been jailed for breaking into Suu Kyi's compound, where she is on house arrest.
The Obama administration and U.S. news outlets have described these two missions as "private diplomacy." Webb and Clinton are both foreign-policy heavyweights outside the administration. Their stature and connections provided them with the latitude to make entreaties to these rogue, adversarial governments. They offered nothing in terms of aid or support or promises of policy-change -- they did not represent the Washington, of course. But they offered good press and a thread back to the capital -- which proved enough for the strongmen, Kim and Shwe.
Clearly, though, the word "private" is not totally accurate here. Both did it with the administration's nod and help.
The Washington Post wrote of Clinton's visit: "The trip came about only after weeks of back-channel conversations involving academics, congressional figures, and senior White House and State Department officials, said sources involved in the planning. North Korea rejected the administration's first choice for the trip -- former vice president Al Gore." The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House approved Webb's mission -- and he used a military plane for the trips.
All of which leaves me a bit queasy, though ultimately hopeful, about this rash of private diplomatic missions.
Part of me thinks the White House shouldn't be in the lame business of disavowing trips it clearly had a hand in making. Further, I worry the United States gave up an opportunity to publicly demand something out of Yangon. Clinton herself has said the United States would consider trading an easing of sanctions for the release of Suu Kyi. Webb may have made some headway towards that goal. But to hear Clinton or Obama comment on it would have doubtless brought a sense of urgency to the issue and shined a brighter spotlight on what the junta needs to change.
On the other hand, both the United States and the rogue governments got what they wanted. The U.S. gave up virtually nothing, got its citizens back, and won some good press for its diplomatic successes. Myanmar and North Korea got, for a moment, to look magnanimous and reasonable -- tempered by the stories about their human-rights abuses, and the fact that Washington did not send interlocutors with actual foreign policy power (Clinton herself, or a committee chair, say) to confer with them.
I suppose these carefully charted and subtle missions proved to work fine. To consider them isolated incidences or unqualified successes (or failures) would be the worst misjudgment -- foreign policy is always about carrots and sticks, and back and forth. This White House gets that really well.
As FP's coverage of Honduras shows, D.C. lobbyists are open to nearly anyone if the price is right. But for those with less cash, Independent Diplomat (ID), a non-profit organization, lobbies with a mission. With a team of experienced former diplomats, its stated purpose is lobbying on behalf of those without diplomatic representation with a goal of reducing conflict.
"Very often government or international officials will refuse to talk to our clients, or if they talk to them they're reluctant to givethem the information they need," said Nicholas Whyte, who heads the Brussels office of the nonprofit group.
"And from our clients' side, they are often inexperienced in dealing with international bureaucracies precisely because nobody talks to them,"said Whyte, an Irish international affairs expert.
According to the AP, Independent Diplomat's annual budget is $1.8 million, funded partly by foundations and partly by client fees--which depend on ability to pay.
Because the United States makes it fairly easy to look up lobbying records, especially for foreign entities, I checked out exactly how much ID is making from its U.S. operations.
According to lobbying disclosure forms, ID's most recent client, registered July 20, is the Government of the Southern Sudan. The contract between the two agrees that the fee to ID will be $294,000 for a maximum of 100 days work. This amount would be high for one contract, even for the standards of, say, Saudi Arabia ($150,000/quarter), but this is where the sliding scale applies. The contract states:
The Parties agree that the Client is not in a position itself to fully fund the Fee and the Expenses payable pursuant to this Agreement but as a contribution to that Fee and the Expenses will pay ID USD $10,000 at a time... to be determine by the parties. As to the remaining amount...the Client agrees that ID and the Client will seek project funding from external sources.
Any donors out there want to pick up this tab? It's a drop in the bucket compared to the $530,000 the official Sudanese government shelled out in 2005.
As for ID's other clients, it appear that Northern Cyprus is paying its full bill of £104,000 ($176,945) and the Burmese exiles have already payed half of their $100,000 year-long fee. Somaliland and Western Sahara, however, are paying only ID's expenses--and it promises to only travel economy class.
In 2008, Al-Jazeera English did a short documentary on Independent Diplomat, and its founder, Carne Ross, who quit the British foreign service over differences on Iraq. Viewable below.
H/T: David Axe
For decades, all that Japan knew of jury trials came from foreign legal dramas. Now, for the first time since 1943, Japan is watching a real jury decide the fate of a criminal, as six "lay judges" join three professional judges for four days of deliberations over the fatal stabbing of a 66 year-old South Korean woman by her 72 year-old neighbor.
Since the end of trial by jury during World War II, Japan's trials have been carried out under professional judges, which led to accusations of too much secrecy. The 99 percent conviction rate that currently accompanies these trials has increased concern that many innocent people are being convicted, and the reintroduction of juries, which was passed five years ago, is designed to bring the public into the judicial process (though only for serious crimes such as murder). However, the public has been skeptical of the new system, especially the hassle involved in taking time off to serve. Furthermore, many Japanese do not enjoy the open forum of deliberations; a New York Times article from 2007 reported that even a mock trial "had left [participants] stressed and overwhelmed." Overall, polls show that almost 80% of the public does not want to serve, and there have been intermittent protests (shown above) since the law's passage.
But while the hassle of serving and the confusion at a new system are at the top of the public's complains, the legal community is more concerned about something else: sentencing. Many critics in Japan have expressed unease at the power given to jurors to pass sentence on criminals, including the death penalty (though at least one professional judge must agree with the lay judges' recommended sentence). Since the accused has already pled guilty in this case, the jury will likely be focusing on the appropriate penalty -- as will the nation.
Two days ago, the Chinese government expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the visit of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer to Japan. The Japanese government (whose record on Chinese human rights issues is not particulary strong) chose to let the visit go ahead anyways, despite China's assertions that Kadeer helped spark the riots in Urumqi earlier this month (an accusation Kadeer has denied).
What China probably feared most has happened: Kadeer said today in Tokyo that "The nearly 10,000 (Uighur) people who were at the protest, they disappeared from Urumqi in one night." Kadeer called for an internation investigation to uncover more about the riots. China claims that 197 people died in the riots, with a further 1,000 detained.
While China's attempts to pressure other countries (and a movie festival in Australia) over the Uighurs have been pathetic, one point should be made in its favor: the Western media response has been rather curious - numerous publications are carrying the quotes, but none that I've seen mention any further proof, even from Kadeer herself, whereas the AP account before her visit to Japan noted that "China has not provided evidence" of Kadeer's alleged role in the riots. This is not to question Kadeer's account (China's reputation for forging the facts when advantageous is well-established), but to ask: why merely repeat her words? 10,000 people in one night is a serious accusation by any country's standards, and similar claims about other countries would not (and do not) get the same benefit of the doubt.
TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
This past week, Vitaliy Katsenelson wrote a great Foreign Policy web feature on the big old asset-price bubble developing in the Chinese economy, called "The China Bubble's Coming -- But Not the One You Think."
Recent news seems to bear the theory out.
The Financial Times reports:
Chinese regulators on Monday ordered banks to ensure unprecedented volumes of new loans are channelled into the real economy and not diverted into equity or real estate markets where officials say fresh asset bubbles are forming.
The new policy requires banks to monitor how their loans are spent and comes amid warnings that banks ignored basic lending standards in the first half of this year as they rushed to extend [around $1 trillion] in new loans, more than twice the amount lent in the same period a year earlier.
I feel a bit strange saying this.
But, over the past year, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I've really come to admire the Chinese central bank.
This fall, it recognized the need for massive stimulus -- and did it. Then it realized it was pushing too much money into the economy, creating bubbles and distorting the lending market -- and so it stopped. The central bank will raise reserve requirements for lenders. And presto, they'll stop lending so much. The bubble will ease, rather than popping.
Of course, I'm wary of my own oversimplification here. The Chinese economy has some very trying issues ahead of it, particularly as related to its currency, its U.S. reserves, and the quality of its economic growth. Plus, the impact of the lending spree (and its halting) obviously won't be clear for some time.
But, for the moment, this move just seems really prudent. Another way of thinking of it? Being a command economy has its advantages when there's need for a whole lot of emergency economic commands.
It's behind the paywall, alas, but the Wall Street Journal has an interesting item about how some former Lehman Brothers employees are doing at their new Japanese firm. The short version? Not so good:
Japanese brokerage firm Nomura Holdings Inc. kicked off a training session for new hires in April by separating the men and women. The women, including Harvard graduates hired by Lehman Brothers before it collapsed, were taught how to wear their hair, serve tea and choose their wardrobes according to the season, say executives who fielded a complaint about the session.
Some folks, of course, would argue that that's about all Harvard graduates are good for.
Since implementation thirty years ago, China's one-child policy has been criticized both in and outside of the country, and its record is somewhat mixed. The government claims that the policy has prevented over 400 million births, but many also blame the policy for leaving China with one of the most imbalanced populations in the world: heavily male and quickly ageing.
In Shanghai, then, where the over-65 population is expected to grow to 12 percent in the next 11 years, the government will begin encouraging some couples to have a second child. This is not the first step for the Chinese government relaxing the policy, nor is it a surprise: propaganda campaigns were already de-emphasizing the strict rule two years ago, and numerous exemptions for different groups have been added over the years. In addition, the policy change in Shanghai will only apply to couples who are both only children, no doubt with the "four-two-one" problem in mind. Still, bringing this initiative to one of China's biggest cities will be a major step, and it will be interesting to see how much more China relaxes the (still-popular) policy.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. debate over healthcare may be getting sharper, but, even at its most bitter, I doubt we'd see a scene in Washington like the fight in South Korea's parliament yesterday.
Whoa. As the video mentions, the brawl took place during debate over controversial media bills that will relax restrictions on ownership of television stations, which the opposition party supports. Just as surprisingly, this is not the first time South Korean parliamentarians have resorted to fisticuffs.
And some people think Prime Minister's Questions is tough.
While most are setting timeframes for troop withdrawal, one country is surprisingly joining the fight in Afghanistan: Mongolia. Under its "third neighbor" policy effort to reach out to allies other than China and Russia, the most sparsely populated country in the world will send 130 soldiers to Kabul in August and a further 23 trainers in September.
The last major operation the country's army faced was in 1945, when it helped the Soviet Union invade Manchuria. Like Afghanistan, much of Mongolia's arsenal is Soviet-made from the 1960s and 1970s, giving troops a surprising advantage when training their Afghan counterparts who are using equally antiquated machinery. Deputy Chief Gen. Y. Choijamts said:
It is one of the best ways to show that Mongolia is not only thinking about itself. It will show we're contributing to regional stability.
[The Afghans] have Russian equipment; we have Russian equipment. It's a lot easier for them to work with us.
The last time the Mongolian army was in Afghanistan in such substantial numbers was more than 800 years ago, when Genghis Khan stormed through on his way to Persia.
Mongolian troops will undoubtedly join American-led efforts in the surge that isn't called a surge.
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty images
The 35 million people that make up the bustling metropolis of Tokyo experience unique comfort caused by a strange lack of crime -- bicycles can be left unlocked, lost possessions are returned to owners. For this reason, it is understandable that Tokyo police don't resemble stereotypical Officer Krupkes: swinging their billy clubs, waiting for the troublemakin' youth. Recently, however, the fuzz has been faced with a real challenge: Kitashikahama Park in Adachi Ward acts as a social space for rowdy teens to express themselves through vandalism and raucous midnight hijinks.
The Tokyo authorities are attempting to differentiate themselves by fighting crime creatively--by assaulting young ears. A British-made Mosquito MK4 Anti-Vandal system has been installed on the premises. The machine emits a high-frequency whine that only teens can hear.
Seven days a week, the whining begins at 11 p.m. and continues until 4 a.m. Video surveillance cameras monitor park buildings. And Kitashikahama Park empties out.
Except for television news crews.
"We see them on the surveillance videos, and there are too many of them to count," said Haruyuki Masuda, head of park management in Adachi Ward. "They hide behind trees and bushes, They are waiting for kids to come. I think they have scared off the kids."
Neighbors report that the park has quieted down at night, if you don't count the television news trucks and the TV-news-watching busybodies who descend on the park after 11 p.m. to find out whether they are too old to be irritated by the whining."
It's too soon to say if the Mosquito system is the real cause of the preliminary decrease in crime. Masuda commented, "We hadn't planned on this being a news sensation. We need things to calm down before we can decide if it really works. We need the TV crews to stop sneaking around."
A week ago, Tobias Harris outlined for FP the many ways that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso is hurting his Liberal Democratic Party: the lauding of Japan's militarist past, the lack of fresh ideas, and the many, many gaffes. Now, many in his own party seem determined to face the next election without him:
The Japanese prime minister, Taro Aso, came under further pressure to resign today, three days after announcing a general election which many of his party allies regard as political suicide.
Members of Mr Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) submitted a petition demanding a meeting of members in the upper and lower chambers of parliament. The document was signed by more than one-third of MPs, and the meeting must take place in the next few days. Former allies of Mr Aso are expected to demand that he step down.
The petition further undermines the unity of the LDP before an election that opinion polls suggest it will lose, for only the second time in its 54-year history.
It was signed by Mr Aso’s Agriculture Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, and by the former secretary-general of the party, Hidenao Nakagawa, who appears to have dedicated himself to Mr Aso’s overthrow. It was also signed by the Finance Minister, Kaoru Yosano, who this morning denied reports that he asked Mr Aso to resign in a meeting yesterday.
Honestly, though, it's hard to see how Aso's resignation would be anything more than a poor stopgap. Having lost the Tokyo assembly for the first time in four decades, sitting a full twenty points down in the polls, and lacking a united platform, the party will need more than a change in personnel to rescue itself from terminal decline.
Issei Kato-Pool/Getty Image
Japan's love hotels are attracting interest from more than just couples looking for a place to spend a few private hours.
Investors are also interested; this vast market seems to be proving more resilient to the recession than luxury business hotels.
There are about 25,000 love hotels in Japan which are visited an estimated 500 million times a year.
Clustered around train stations, they are doing a brisk business despite the worst recession in living memory[...]
Plenty of customers are using love hotels to indulge in affairs or to meet prostitutes, although many are couples looking to escape the narrow confines of Japanese apartment living.
According to the BBC, many of the love hotels cater to specific themes, ranging from bondage to the film Titanic. Travelers be warned, though: "each room is, on average, used four times a day." Think about bringing your own sheets.
At a large Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, where robots once churned out more robots, a lone robotic worker with steely arms twisted and turned, testing its motors for the day new orders return. Its immobile co-workers stood silent in rows, many with arms frozen in midair...Across the industry, shipments of industrial robots fell 33 percent in the last quarter of 2008, and 59 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Japan Robot Association.
Even non-industrial robots are taking a hit. Ugoba, "maker of the cute green Pleo dinosaur robot with a wiggly tail" has filed for bankruptcy, the NYT says, despite selling 100,000 of its creations.
However, there is still hope for the robot industry, or at least baby dinosaur robots. "Pleo is alive and in good hands!" its official website declares. The company has been acquired by the Hong Kong based Jetta Group and will be "re-launched" soon.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong Il's recent decline in health has led him to scale down his public appearances. But the North Korean dictator did move back into the spotlight yesterday, appearing to commemorate the 15th anniversary of his father's death. Video from Russia Today:
The BBC reports:
Observers said he looked gaunt and limped slightly while entering the crammed auditorium where the ceremony was held in the capital Pyongyang.
It was the second major state event the 67-year-old has attended since suffering a suspected stroke in August.
His poor health has led to concerns of a power struggle if he dies suddenly[...]
Wearing a khaki suit, Mr Kim bowed his head during a moment of silence, beneath a portrait of a giant red flag with an image of his father, Kim Il-sung.
The North's deputy leader, Kim Yong Nam, issued the regime's by now familiar denunciation of the United States and South Korea.
Keihin Electric Express Railway Company is not happy with how their employees are smiling, and have introduced a "Smile Scan" to improve their grinning abilities:
The smile-measuring software has been developed by Kyoto-based precision equipment maker Omron Corp. The device analyzes the facial characteristics of a person, including eye movements, lip curves and wrinkles, and rates a smile on a scale between 0 and 100 percent using a camera and computer.
For those with low scores, advice like "You still look too serious," or "Lift up your mouth corners," will be displayed on the screen.
Some 530 employees of the Tokyo-based railway company will check their smiles with Smile Scan before starting work each day. They will print out and carry around an image of their best smile in an attempt to remember it.
It is still unclear whether they'll use fewer muscles this way.
The citizens call Taedonggang Beer 'cold yet warm beer' as it is associated with the warm care of General Secretary Kim Jong Il for the people.
During the past two weeks, diplomats and experts have continued to watch nervously as a U.S. destroyer has shadowed the North Korean transport ship Kang Nam 1. Now, the ship has apparently turned around -- and nobody in the U.S. defense establishment knows what to make of it.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.
The move keeps the U.S. and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new U.N. anti-proliferation resolution?[...]
The U.N. resolution allows the international community to ask for permission to board and search any suspect ship on the seas. If permission for inspection is refused, authorities can ask for an inspection in whichever nation where the ship pulls into port.
North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.
Two officials had said earlier in the day Tuesday that the Kang Nam had been moving very slowly in recent days, something that could signal it was trying to conserve fuel.
They said they didn't know what the turnaround of the ship means, nor what prompted it.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Sunday that Washington was "following the progress of that ship very closely," but she would not say whether the U.S. would confront the Kang Nam.
Even before the unexpected reverse in course, some in Washington were beginning to doubt the whole operation:
Inside the White House, they are beginning to call it "The Cruise to Nowhere."
For more than two weeks now, White House officials have been receiving frequent updates on a rusting North Korean ship, the Kang Nam 1, as it makes its way dead-slow across the South China Sea. Earlier this month, Mr. Obama's aides thought the aging hulk - with its long rap sheet for surreptitious deliveries of missiles and arms - would be the first test of a United Nations Security Council resolution giving countries the right to hail suspect shipments, and order them to a nearby port for inspection.
But now some top officials in the Obama administration are beginning to wonder whether Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, ordered the Kang Nam 1 out on a fishing expedition - in hopes that a new American president will be his first catch.
"The whole thing just doesn't add up," said one senior administration official who has been tracking the cargo ship's lazy summer journey. "My worry is that we make a big demand about seeing the cargo, and then there's a tense standoff, and when it's all over we discover that old man Kim set us up to look like George Bush searching for nonexistent W.M.D."
With this kind of "made-you-look" trickery, perhaps Kim Jong Il has been taking lessons from Lucy van Pelt.
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP/Getty Images
As Democrats in Washington scramble to find enough votes for their cap-and-trade bill, China may be making some gestures towards dealing with climate change and pollution. One step is preventing last month's acquisition of Hummer by a Chinese company:
A Chinese firm's bid to buy the gas-guzzling Hummer car brand will be blocked on environmental grounds, according to Chinese state radio.
Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery emerged as the surprise buyer for the brand earlier this year.
But China National Radio said Hummer is at odds with the country's planning agency's attempts to decrease pollution from Chinese manufacturers.
The acquisition from General Motors would need Chinese regulatory approval.
The value of the bid was not disclosed at the time, but analysts say that GM would have made about $100m (£61m) from the sale.
National Development and Reform Commission will also block Sichuan Tengzhong from buying Hummer because the Chinese construction equipment maker lacks expertise in car production, state radio added.
Another interesting fact from the article: Hummer is known as "Han Ma," or "Bold Horse" in China.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights...Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right.He writes in part to criticize Amnesty International's 2009 report (pictured at right) for its inclusion of poverty as a rights violation. In a following post he then publishes a response from Sameer Dossani of Amnesty:
It's true that lack of income, in and of itself, isn't a human rights violation. But poverty is about a lot more than just income. As Easterly knows, those who live on less than a dollar a day are poor not just because they lack income; the lack of income implies lack of access to services, clean drinking water, adequate education, housing, employment and so on. All of these are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. To give just one of many possible examples, estimates indicate that as many as 8,000 children die daily in Africa alone from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It's certainly true to say that these are diseases of poverty - the rich can ensure that their water is not contaminated and can seek treatment at private hospitals as opposed to understaffed government clinics - but they are more than that. They are violations of the right to health and the right to clean water.
Is this more than a semantic debate? Both agree poverty ought to be alleviated and that poverty is connected to actual human rights violations. Easterly calls it "disappointing" that Amnesty is "blurring its previous clear focus on human rights." Is it?
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
In October, Huang Guangyu was the second-richest man in China, having built a fortune through his appliance company Gome. But in November, "The Price Butcher," as Guangyu was known, suddenly disappeared, with hushed reports that he was 'in trouble.' Now, not only is Guangyu being held by Chinese authorities in an undisclosed location on charges of bribery and stock manipulation, but Der Spiegel reveals that his disappearance is part of a larger anti-corruption effort undertaken by the Communist Party:
The deep fall of corporate CEO Huang, the son of a farmer and a self-made man who worked his way up from being a minor radio merchant to the powerful head of a company with about 1,350 retail stores, is increasingly claiming political casualties.
At the beginning of the year, the vice minister for public safety and senior criminal prosecutor for economic crimes, Zheng Shaodong, was arrested, as was his deputy Xiang Huaizhu. According to reports in the Chinese media, the two top officials allegedly took bribes from Huang.
In April, two high-ranking Communist Party officials from Guangdong, China's important exporting province which borders Hong Kong, were arrested on corruption charges[...]
President and Communist Party Chairman Hu Jintao apparently wants to use the affair to clean up the party ahead of October's celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. The affair is also an opportunity to fundamentally restructure the world's manufacturing powerhouse in response to the global economic crisis.
Whether the anti-corruption efforts last long enough to be more than a gesture at the next anniversary remains to be seen. But such is the fear among wealthy Chinese of becoming targets that Forbes's list of richest Chinese is "colloquially known in China as 'pig slaughter lists.'" Talk about a mixed blessing.
Nelson Ching-Pool/Getty Images
Coming from China's state news agency, this prediction of social turmoil seems significant. Translation by China Digital Times:
Without question, we’ve already entered a period of highly concentrated mass incidents. Furthermore, 2009 may also be the year that Chinese society will face many contradictions and conflicts in a way that will test the governance at every level of Party government.
At the moment, the most sensitive problem is that of working to stop the financial tsunami’s metamorphosis from economic pressure to a social crisis. The focus has been on maintaining economic growth, guaranteeing employment, protecting the people’s livelihood and maintaining stability....
The common characteristics of current mass incidents can be summarized as follows: social contradictions have already formed certain foundations of society and the masses, creating a powder keg ready to explode at the first hint of a flame. Conflicts escalate extremely rapidly; confrontation is intense; the destruction to society is sizable; appropriate management is difficult. At the same time, behind the seemingly random “sparks,” there is always a pile of “tinder.” This causes small incidents to escalate quickly, evolving into a large-scale, intense conflict. This shows that in a period of constant change in greater social interest and personal interests, a social crisis can be instigated by a contagion of dissatisfaction among the people. Even a street brawl could turn into an irrational mass venting that engulfs the whole city.
In one district of Tokyo, crime has fallen 80 percent in six years, thanks to all the typical neighborhood crime fighting measures: neighborhood patrols, more cameras, and...planting flowers?
A Tokyo district plagued with burglaries has turned to planting flowers to beautify its streets and help stamp out crime.
"'Operation Flower' began about three years ago. By planting flowers facing the street, more people will be keeping an eye out while taking care of the flowers or watering them," said Kiyotaka Ohyagi, a Suginami City official.
"The best way to prevent crime is to have more people on the lookout."
The explanation seems to be a page out of the "causation does equal correlation" playbook:
When a neighborhood watch group found that there were fewer burglaries in buildings on flower-lined streets, Suginami decided to kick off Operation Flower and asked volunteers to plant seeds on side streets and in front of their homes.
It's hard to argue with the results, but surely just looking out the window once in a while could've done the trick just as well?
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Concerned toupee wearers everywhere will be heartened to hear the latest hairpiece news from Taiwan:
A man who tore the wig off a telegenic Taiwan legislator last year was sentenced to five months in jail for depriving the MP of his freedom to look good, a court spokesman said Tuesday.
Chiu Yi (shown above arguing with police during voting in the 2004 elections) is a sometimes-controversial Chinese Nationalist Party politician, known for his many accusations against the opposing Democratic Progressive Party. But freedom of expression took a new form in this case:
"The judge thought Chiu Yi had the freedom to wear what he wanted, and Chiu felt the wig made him look prettier," court spokesman Huang Chin-ming said. "The judge thinks that to remove it intentionally was to take away that right."
Remember, don't hate someone because they're beautiful.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese authorities have burned (in a single industrial furnace) over 860 pounds of smuggled drugs after a three-year effort to track and arrest more than 16,000 suspected dealers. But that's not all. A government spokesperson said drug enforcement agents only destroyed "about half" of the stockpile that was created as a result of the 2006-2008 operation.
Yesterday marks the 170th anniversary of China's Humen Opium Destruction, in which another government official had 1,000 tons of foreign drugs burned. Today's event was held in honor of the original.
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