Archive for the ‘International politics’ Category

Death penalty to follow departure of world leaders

April 24th, 2015 Comments off

The ending of a Jakarta conference attended by the leaders of 22 countries apparently removes the last major obstacle to the death by firing squad of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. In a front page story today The Jakarta Post reports Indonesian Attorney General M. Prasetyo said on Wednesday that all preparations for the executions were in place. “We are prepared, so we can decide on a date any time,” he told the House of Representatives.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Cash from Australia sending Indonesians to fight with IS

March 24th, 2015 Comments off

This morning’s Jakarta Post reports:

is groups


Another Post story reports claims by an Indonesian official that Australia has sent back 15 illegal immigrants from Nepal, Iran and Bangladesh into Indonesian waters off West Java’s Sukabumi.

The illegal immigrants had reached Australia’s Christmas Island and stayed there for three days, an official of the Sukabumi Immigration office, Markus Lenggo, quoted the immigrants as saying.

“They said they crossed to the Australian island from the Pamengpeuk coastal village of Garut [in West Java] on March 17, but after three days they were sent back to Indonesian territory,” Markus said.

The 15 illegal immigrants — six from Iran including three girls, seven from Bangladesh and two from Nepal – were found stranded on the coast of Pangumbahan in Sukabumi by the police on Sunday.

They were then sent to the Sukabumi Immigration Office, which put them in its detention center, he said. Nine of them were in possession of official documents from the UNHCR refugee agency showing that they were asylum seekers, but the rest claimed that they had lost their documents.

“We are awaiting directions from IOM [International Organization for Migration] and the Law and Human Rights Ministry on what to do with the immigrants,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

One of the asylum seekers, Muhamad Baleyet Husain from Bangladesh, said the Australian authorities told them they had to be sent back to Indonesia as the two countries were in the midst of a political row following the planned execution of two Australians drug convicts.

“We arrived on Christmas Island but the local authorities sent us back to Indonesian waters using a boat accompanied by Australian officers,” Husain said.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Has Tony Abbott committed Australia to a never ending war?

March 12th, 2015 Comments off

A couple of stories this week that make me wonder what Tony Abbott has got us into by sending our troops back to Iraq to tackle the ISIS threat.

One is on the Foreign Policy website – Let Me Make This as Unclear as Possible. It makes the case for “why the Obama administration’s authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State is intentionally an open-ended ticket to forever war … again.”

The author, Micah Zenko, who is the Douglas Dillon fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at recent congressional hearings on an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Obama administration sought even while claiming a president did not need such a thing. Two bits of evidence stood out:

In a telling exchange last week, [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine] Wormuth was asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) how she would define victory against the Islamic State. Wormuthdeclared: “When ISIL is no longer a threat to Iraq, to its existence, to our partners and allies in the region, and to the United States.” O’Rourke pushed the Pentagon’s top policy official further: “So as long as ISIL is seen as a threat to ourselves or any of our partners around the world we have not won?” To this, Wormuth replied: “I think that’s fair.”

At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Gen. Dempsey was similarly asked what victory over ISIL would look like. The most senior uniformed U.S. military officer answered: “That’s not for us to declare. Their ideology has to be defeated by those in the region.” But just who declares victory on behalf of the U.S.-led coalition, or how air strikes help in defeating an ideology, was not explained.

Zenko concluded that these two contrasting depictions of victory are a long way from Barack Obama’s previously articulated strategic objectives to “destroy” and later “defeat” the Islamic State.

But the Obama administration has been consistent since Aug. 7 in its use of fuzzy language, the gradual mission creep, and shifting implausible objectives. Now, 216 days and more than 2,200 strikes later, Congress is assuming its expected role of debating the language of what is, by all accounts, a meaningless AUMF. A uniquely brave senator or congressional member might better use hearings or floor debates to explore how this has become the normal state of affairs for how the United States goes to war.

And as is clear since the Abbott decision to send extra troops to “train” the Iraqi armed forces, as goes the United States, so goes Australia.

The second story for the week to set me wondering about where this renewed Australian intervention in the Middle East might end up was in London’s Independent – Isis in Afghanistan is a disaster waiting to happen – Its black flag has replaced the white ones of the Talibs in a swathe of areas including in Helmand.

Kim Sengupta the paper’s Defence Correspondent, that Isis spreading tentacles in Afghanistan has, internationally, gone largely unrecorded.

The gains for Isis are not purely military in Afghanistan. Like the Taliban they are grabbing chunks of the narcotic stocks which can then be moved west along the parts of Iraq under its control. This is of great value at a time when their income from sale oil from captured fields, said not so long ago to be a $1 million a day, are being hit by US led air strikes: the latest ones were today at a refinery in Tel Abyad. …

It has taken a while for official recognition of the Isis threat in Afghanistan. Last month General Ali Murad, of the Afghan army, stated that “elements of Isis, masked men, are active in Zabul [another Taliban dominated province] and Helmand and have raised black flags. Now, they are trying to spread their activities to the north.”  …

Afghanistan is a war and a place the West would like to forget, there’s too much of a sense of futility about the very long mission there. But that is the way we also felt about Iraq. There, too, Isis started on a slow burn and look what happened. Like Iraq, the West may have to revisit Afghanistan as well, this time facing an enemy more implacable and savage than the Taliban ever were.

Tony Abbott’s personal intervention with Indonesian President fails?

February 28th, 2015 Comments off



This morning’s Jakarta Post holds out little hope that the death sentences on Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan will be commuted.

Indonesia’s President: Fan Of Megadeth, Defender Of Death Penalty

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

joko widodo

  • Indonesia’s President: Fan Of Megadeth, Defender Of Death Penalty – Indonesian President Joko Widodo took office a little more than 100 days ago, buoyed by sky-high expectations for political change. He’s seen as very different from the strongmen and power brokers who have dominated the country for decades. And he’s certainly unconventional. He’s an avid fan of heavy metal groups like Metallica and Megadeth. He’s been photographed wearing black Napalm Death T-shirts and flashing the “devil’s horns” hand sign. But some of his supporters are dismayed by the unexpectedly strong stance he has taken in favor of the death penalty. Last month, Indonesia executed six convicted drug traffickers — five of them foreigners — by firing squad. Two Australians and a British grandmother are among the foreigners still on Indonesia’s death row. So far, Jokowi, as he’s known in Indonesia, has refused all appeals for clemency.
  • NSW Labor has to go Green or go home
  • Oscars Get Political, As Acceptance Speeches Wade Into Social Issues
  • If Your Teacher Likes You, You Might Get A Better Grade – A newly published paper suggests that personality similarity affects teachers’ estimation of student achievement. That is, how much you are like your teacher contributes to his or her feelings about you — and your abilities.
  • Why Some States Want To Legalize Raw Milk Sales – The federal government banned the sale of raw milk across state lines nearly three decades ago because it poses a threat to public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association all strongly advise people not to drink it.But individual states still control raw milk sales within their borders. And despite the health warnings, some Midwestern states have recently proposed legalizing raw milk sales to impose strict regulations on the risky — and growing — market. Raw milk has become popular in recent years as part of the local food movement: An estimated 3 percent of the population drinks at least one glass a week. Many of its fans are fiercely passionate about what they see as its benefits. They say they buy raw milk because it doesn’t contain the growth hormone rGBH, they like the taste, and they enjoy having a direct connection to the food they eat.
  • Hillary Clinton’s grandmother gambit – “Grandmothers know best.” Hillary Clinton attached that line as a hashtag to a tweet about the importance of measles vaccinations earlier this month. Given that Mrs Clinton’s tweets are read like messages from the Delphic oracle, it hasrekindled speculation that the former secretary of state will be leaning on her new grandmatronly status in her all-but-announced upcoming presidential campaign.
  • WHO urges shift to single-use smart syringes – Smart syringes that break after one use should be used for injections by 2020, the World Health Organization has announced. Reusing syringes leads to more than two million people being infected with diseases including HIV and hepatitis each year. The new needles are more expensive, but the WHO says the switch would be cheaper than treating the diseases. More than 16 billion injections are administered annually. Normal syringes can be used again and again. But the smart ones prevent the plunger being pulled back after an injection or retract the needle so it cannot be used again.

Tony Abbott signs the execution papers?

February 24th, 2015 Comments off

Perhaps in diplomacy words can be bullets. This morning’s Jakarta Post commentary:


[Note – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has also said that execution would have negative repercussions.]

The risk of Tony Abbott carrying the can if Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran do face the firing squad increases.

See also Blaming Tony Abbott – Indonesia plays the game and Jakarta Post reports: TNI to safeguard prison island as Jokowi firm on execution policy

Blaming Tony Abbott – Indonesia plays the game

February 23rd, 2015 Comments off

If Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran finally are executed, expect Tony Abbott to be cast in the role of villain.

The reaction in Indonesia to our Prime Minister’s argument in favour of having the two drug dealers spared is getting stronger. From page one of the Jakarta Post this morning:

coin for abbott

People in Aceh are collecting spare change for Tony Abbot following the Australian prime minister’s recent comments about a lack of Indonesian gratitude as it readies to execute two Australian drug traffickers.

Organizers said that the money collected would be given to the Australian government to “repay” an estimated A$1 billion worth of aid given to Indonesia after the 2004 Aceh tsunami.

Among initiators of the coin drive are the I Love Aceh community and the Association of Indonesian Muslim University Students (KAMMI), which has set up special posts for people to participate in the drive.

“We are ready to collect coins to be handed over to the Australian government,” chairman of KAMMI’s Banda Aceh post, Martunus, said.

“We call on the Indonesian government to not be afraid of threats or other forms of intervention in connection to the upcoming executions,” he said, calling Abbot’s statement hurtful.

Stories like that are sure to influence the blame game in Australia should the executions take place. Tony Abbott will be accused of sabotaging the diplomatic amnesty attempts.

Jakarta Post reports: TNI to safeguard prison island as Jokowi firm on execution policy

February 21st, 2015 Comments off

There’s no sign in this morning’s report by the Jakarta Post that the Indonesian president intends to change his mind on the death penalty for convicted drug criminals.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made it clear on Friday that the postponed executions of 11 death row convicts, including two Australians, was simply the result of technical problems in the field and it had no relation at all to Australia’s pressure on Indonesia to drop the decision.

“No, there were no such issues. It is within our legal sovereignty [to execute the convicts],” Jokowi said at the Bogor Palace. “I believe the delay is due to technical issues; just ask the attorney general [about the details].”

The President then asked Vice President Jusuf Kalla to brief reporters about his telephone conversation with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Thursday, in which the Australian diplomat clarified the statement from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that was perceived as offensive to Indonesia. The Prime Minister said Australia would feel “grievously let down” if the executions proceeded despite the A$1 billion that was given in aid after the 2004 tsunami devastated Aceh and Nias in North Sumatra.

Kalla, who previously denied speculations that the postponement of the executions was based on pressure from Abbott, said Bishop phoned him on Thursday to clarify Abbott’s statement.

“Yesterday [Thursday], Foreign Minister Bishop explained, and certainly regretted, the misunderstanding,” Kalla said.

According to the Vice President, Bishop also said that Abbott merely tried to emphasize the long history of good relations between the two countries, including the period in which Aceh was devastated by a tsunami.

Quoting the Australian diplomat, Kalla said Australia wanted to continue cooperating with Indonesia in a variety of areas, including the fight against drug abuse and trafficking.

Attorney General M. Prasetyo, whose office is responsible for carrying out the execution, reiterated that the government decided to delay the executions from the original date earlier this month simply for technical reasons.

He also warned Australia not to intervene in Indonesia’s domestic affairs. “We never put pressure on others; we hope they also do not put pressure on us,” said the attorney general.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Moeldoko supported the President’s decision saying that he was ready to deploy military personnel to secure the execution site from any threats.

Moeldoko said that he would provide any support that the government needed to complete the executions of the 11 convicts, including the two Australians that the current controversy is centered around, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

“The TNI will never be influenced by anything or by anybody. On the death penalty issue, we have a clear stance; right or wrong this is my country,” Moeldoko said.

Moeldoko said military leaders would hold a meeting with the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Law and Human Rights Ministry to discuss possible threats that might emerge before and during the executions.

“We will make a detailed emergency plan to prepare for any disruptions that may interfere with the executions,” Moeldoko said.

Although Moeldoko declined to give further information on what kind of security threats might emerge as a result of the executions, he insisted that he had sufficient information from TNI intelligence reports.

“Of course we don’t want to clearly state the threats that may come from certain countries. But the TNI understands that there are possible threats. This is why we asked the head of military intelligence to attend the meeting,” he said, adding that he was ready to deploy military personnel whenever the government needed it.

For instance, the military will allocate its personnel to secure several areas in Nusakambangan prison island, Central Java, where the executions are set to take place.

“There are several empty roads on the island that need to be secured from outsiders,” the four-star general said.

death spot or tourist destination

The newspaper also carried a picture of people trying to get a boat to the scheduled location for the execution. The caption reads:

Death spot or tourist destination? Several people wait for a boat at the Wijayapura Port, Cilacap regency, Central Java, on Friday to go to the notorious Nusakambangan Island. Ever since the news that there would be a second round of executions of drug convicts was publicized, more and more people started flocking to the island every day as if it had become a tourist destination.

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The multi-billion dollar cost to shareholders of bad behaviour by bankers

January 4th, 2015 Comments off
The CCP Research Foundation data shows that rolling conduct costs and provisions for 12 of the most-fined banks in 2009 to 2013 were £166.63bn ($261bn), compared with £154.96bn for 2008 to 2012. Shareholders are understandably starting to complain that they are paying the price for misconduct by executives, often of banks that no longer exist but have instead been taken over. Regulators have some sympathy with this argument, and the UK began consultations in July 2014 on a new senior managers’ regime, which would require executives to certify that they had done everything possible to prevent illegal activity in their bank. Bonuses would be subject to seven-year clawback provisions in the event of misconduct or heavy losses emerging in the bank. The response from the City was very critical ...

The CCP Research Foundation data shows that rolling conduct costs and provisions for 12 of the most-fined banks in 2009 to 2013 were £166.63bn ($261bn), compared with £154.96bn for 2008 to 2012. Shareholders are understandably starting to complain that they are paying the price for misconduct by executives, often of banks that no longer exist but have instead been taken over. Regulators have some sympathy with this argument, and the UK began consultations in July 2014 on a new senior managers’ regime, which would require executives to certify that they had done everything possible to prevent illegal activity in their bank. Bonuses would be subject to seven-year clawback provisions in the event of misconduct or heavy losses emerging in the bank.
The response from the City was very critical …

  • 2014: the year of banks behaving badly – “Growing geopolitical risk and the rising toll of misconduct fines overshadowed what should have been a year of strengthening economic recovery.” (Free registration required for this review by The Banker)
  • Hillary Versus History – “When Hillary Clinton thinks about running for president, do you think she contemplates the fact that no Democrat has been elected to succeed another Democrat since James Buchanan in 1856? … What do you think this means? Actually, there weren’t all that many Republicans who were elected to succeed Republicans either. “
  • How Fox News Covered Pope Francis’ Action On Climate Change – Skepticism, Fearmongering, And Comparison To “Widespread Population Control”
  • Tensions Mount as Israel Freezes Revenue Meant for Palestinians – “Israel is withholding $127 million in tax revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority in response to its move last week to join the International Criminal Court, further escalating tensions with a step that could have serious repercussions for both sides.”
  • Understanding the Issues in the 2015 Nigerian Presidential Election – “In the past few years, several separate, regional political parties merged into the All Progressive Congress, creating the opportunity for a credible opposition to pose a real challenge to the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which has been in power since the transition to civilian rule in 1999. Tensions in the country are high: Regional economic inequality has exacerbated the long-standing north-south, Christian-Muslim divides. Similarly, President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to run again has disrupted traditional power-sharing agreements among the regions and religions. Boko Haram continues to threaten security around the country, especially in the north. The post-election violence of 2011 also continues to cast a shadow over the country.”

Another war waiting to happen in Gaza

January 1st, 2015 Comments off
  • Gaza Is Nowhere – “There is another war waiting to happen in Gaza. The last one changed nothing. Hamas rockets are being test-fired. A Palestinian farmer has been shot dead near the border. Tensions simmer. The draft Security Council resolution at the United Nations, championed by the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, seeking a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank by 2017, amounts to an elaborate sideshow. The real matter of diplomatic urgency going into 2015, for the Palestinian people and the world, is to end the lockdown of Gaza.”
  • Tony Blair says Labour ‘left-wing’ warning ‘misinterpreted’ – Tony Blair has insisted he is fully behind Ed Miliband despite appearing to suggest Labour risks being too left-wing to win the general election. The former prime minister told the Economist May’s poll could become one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.Asked if this meant a Tory win, he replied: “Yes, that is what happens.”hangover
  • You’re gonna get soooo wasted tonight, and Google knows it – “Google searches for “hangover cure” spike by an insane amount on New Year’s day.”
  • A year in a word: Novorossiya – “Vladimir Putin’s use of the word led many to fear Russian expansionism, says Courtney Weaver. Novorossiya – noun — the Black Sea territory that was part of the Russian Empire from the late 18th century until the Revolution of 1917. While most of the world considers the territory part of modern-day Ukraine, a group of pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine and the Moscow leadership beg to differ.”
His first notable caper was in 1975, at Bellewstown, an Irish track more noted for its lovely setting than the quality of its racing. Mr Curley’s horse, Yellow Sam, had not finished above eighth in two years; it was carrying 10kg less than some of its rivals. Yellow Sam’s performance, however, was not Mr Curley’s only concern, or even his main one. The real worry was the odds.

His first notable caper was in 1975, at Bellewstown, an Irish track more noted for its lovely setting than the quality of its racing. Mr Curley’s horse, Yellow Sam, had not finished above eighth in two years; it was carrying 10kg less than some of its rivals. Yellow Sam’s performance, however, was not Mr Curley’s only concern, or even his main one. The real worry was the odds.

  • Only fools and horses – The Economist recounts how the perfectly legal heists of a racehorse-trainer and former seminarian made him the bane of the bookies.
  • Debt piled up – A review by Eric Rauchway of THE SHIFTS AND THE SHOCKS – What we’ve learned – and still have to learn – from the financial crisis by Martin Wolf 496pp. Allen Lane. £25. “Over the course of his new book on the current economic unpleasantness, Martin Wolf conveys a sense of increasing frustration. …  Governments, banks and international institutions did “just enough, almost too late” to prevent the worst possible result, which would have been a note-for-note replay of the 1930s including a slide into fascism and world war. But having done no more than avoid world-historic catastrophe, we find ourselves mired in a dim morass of our own making, with no sunlit uplands in sight. No wonder Wolf is exasperated.”
  • Our new pro-science pontiff: Pope Francis on climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang

Some Conservative ideas for Joe Hockey’s MYEFO

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

If Joe Hockey really is keen on some deficit reducing action, perhaps Britain’s Conservative Government has provided some ideas.

UK autumn statement

That’s how the business section of London’s Daily Telegraph headlined the tax changes outlined by the Chancellor.

GEORGE Osborne has used his last Autumn Statement before the general election to launch an £8bn tax raid on big business, targeting banks and multinational technology companies.

The Chancellor intends to raise billions by enforcing a “Google tax” on multinationals which artificially divert their UK profits overseas, while also blocking a corporation tax rule that allows banks to use the losses they racked up during the financial crisis to offset their future profits. The moves, combined with a string of other measures to stop companies avoiding tax, will help to fund a major overhaul of stamp duty and an increase in the personal income allowance to £10,600.

A different kind of approach to raising the dosh than being taken in Australia by our Treasurer Joe Hockey.

Putin’s information war – disinformation on a mass scale and other news and views for Sunday 16 November

November 16th, 2014 Comments off
  • Putin waging information war in Ukraine worthy of George Orwell – “… the Kremlin’s latest weapon: disinformation on a mass scale and in multiple languages. … The purpose of the media offensive isn’t so much to present an alternative point of view as to create a parallel reality where crackpots become experts and conspiracy theories offer explanations for the injustices of the world. The target audience is Western citizens skeptical of their own system of government. The goal is obfuscation. Lying – blatantly and repeatedly – is considered a legitimate weapon in the arsenal of hybrid warfare that Putin has unleashed in the struggle for Ukraine. Words may seem harmless in comparison to bullets and bombs, but their effect has been no less deadly.”
a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA's ERSST dataset.

a) NOAA Sea Surface Temperature anomaly (with respect to period 1854-2013) averaged over global oceans (red) and over North Pacific (0-60oN, 110oE-100oW) (cyan). September 2014 temperatures broke the record for both global and North Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures. b) Sea Surface Temperature anomaly of September 2014 from NOAA’s ERSST dataset.

  • Warmest oceans ever recorded – “This summer has seen the highest global mean sea surface temperatures ever recorded since their systematic measuring started. Temperatures even exceed those of the record-breaking 1998 El Niño year,” says Axel Timmermann, climate scientist and professor, studying variability of the global climate system at the International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

    From 2000-2013 the global ocean surface temperature rise paused, in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. This period, referred to as the Global Warming Hiatus, raised a lot of public and scientific interest. However, as of April 2014 ocean warming has picked up speed again, according to Timmermann’s analysis of ocean temperature datasets.
    “The 2014 global ocean warming is mostly due to the North Pacific, which has warmed far beyond any recorded value (Figure 1a) and has shifted hurricane tracks, weakened trade winds, and produced coral bleaching in the Hawaiian Islands,” explains Timmermann.
    He describes the events leading up to this upswing as follows: Sea-surface temperatures started to rise unusually quickly in the extratropical North Pacific already in January 2014. A few months later, in April and May, westerly winds pushed a huge amount of very warm water usually stored in the western Pacific along the equator to the eastern Pacific. This warm water has spread along the North American Pacific coast, releasing into the atmosphere enormous amounts of heat–heat that had been locked up in the Western tropical Pacific for nearly a decade.
    “Record-breaking greenhouse gas concentrations and anomalously weak North Pacific summer trade winds, which usually cool the ocean surface, have contributed further to the rise in sea surface temperatures. The warm temperatures now extend in a wide swath from just north of Papua New Guinea to the Gulf of Alaska (Figure 1b),” says Timmermann.
    The current record-breaking temperatures indicate that the 14-year-long pause in ocean warming has come to an end.

  • Europe Takes Aim at Deals Created to Escape Taxes – The Tax Attraction Between Starbucks and the Netherlands
  • Conservatives: Let’s Prove We Can Govern by Shutting Down the Government and Impeaching Obama 

The Office of Forbidding Midday Alcohol Consumption

October 30th, 2014 Comments off

And you thought the nanny state was bad enough in Australia. Well the city of Shangqiu in Henan province has gone a step further. In 2007 it set up the Office of Forbidding Midday Alcohol Consumption to reduce alcohol consumption at government-funded lunches. No nipping out for a quiet glass at your own expense either. Officials were forbidden from consuming alcohol during the day. Staff members of the Office of Forbidding Midday Alcohol Consumption wait at the doors of restaurants, randomly inspect offices, and talk with officials to see if anyone has disobeyed the rule.

Details of this and other interesting aspects of China’s massive bureaucracy are given in the latest Tea Leaf Nation report “Foot Spas, Steamed Buns, and Midday Drinking”. Those steamed buns, it seems, are a matter of vital concern.

The proliferation of steamed bun offices has been causing trouble since at least 2001, when a local paper reported that in Zhengzhou alone, there were a total of six steamed bun offices at various levels, all of which held the power to approve (or to halt) the production of buns, a staple food for Henan residents. Jurisdictional conflicts often took place between these six offices, and the Zhengzhou city government later revoked their charters. But that hasn’t stopped other provinces from operating their own steamed bun regulatory committees. An Oct. 23 article in national outlet Beijing News showed staff from the steamed bun office in the ancient capital of Xi’an conducting a spot check on the weight of buns in a local kitchen.


I was rather taken by The Watermelon Office.

This organization in Zhengzhou, the capital of the central province of Henan, helps suburban farmers sell their watermelons in the city by creating a “watermelon map” to connect buyers and vendors. The watermelon office isn’t short on social media savvy; the office now boasts over 50,000 followers on its verified account on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

2014-10-30_watermelonofficeChina’s state owned media are publicising efforts to streamline such “redundant” local committees out of existence following the June 2013 launch of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “mass-line campaign,” which seeks to fight corruption by bringing cadres in the ruling Communist Party closer to the people they ostensibly serve. The Xinhua newsagency reported this month on the efforts to reduce bureaucracy and red tape. But the redundancies are easier to claim than to achieve.

Tea Leaf Nation noted:

State media may be trumpeting Xi’s mass-line cleanup a bit prematurely. Some of the cited organizations continue to exist. After the publication of Xinhua’s critical article, the director of the Watermelon Office told one news outlet that the office would not be disbanded and would continue to serve farmers next year. There is no evidence showing the Pingshan government has gutted its ragweed removal outfit. And according to the website of the Xi’an Grain Bureau, its version of a steamed bun authority still persists.


Democracy is for infidels – An Islamic State recruiter on the group’s vision for the future and other news and views for Wednesday 29 October

October 29th, 2014 Comments off

We are following Allah’s word. We believe that humanity’s only duty is to honor Allah and his prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We are implementing what is written in the Koran. If we manage to do so, then of course it will be a success. …

A Muslim is a person who follows Allah’s laws without question. Sharia is our law. No interpretation is needed, nor are laws made by men. Allah is the only lawmaker. We have determined that there are plenty of people, in Germany too, who perceive the emptiness of the modern world and who yearn for values of the kind embodied by Islam. Those who are opposed to Sharia are not Muslims. We talk to the people who come to us and evaluate on the basis of dialogue how deep their faith is. …

Democracy is for infidels. A real Muslim is not a democrat because he doesn’t care about the opinions of majorities and minorities don’t interest him. He is only interested in what Islam says. Furthermore, democracy is a hegemonic tool of the West and contrary to Islam.

  • The Sectarian Apocalypse – “Despite fighting bitterly against each other in Iraq and Syria, many of the Sunni and Shi‘a militants who have been drawn to the battlefield are motivated by a common apocalyptic belief. … One might expect that the recent entry of infidel armies into Iraq and Syria would lessen the internecine tone of the prophesying and focus attention on the Mahdi’s battle with the infidels. But it has only heightened the sectarian apocalyptic fervor as each sect vies to destroy the other for the privilege of destroying the infidels. Little wonder such a heady reenactment of the End Times drama on the original stage where it was performed is drawing an unprecedented number of Sunni and Shi‘a foreign fighters to the theater. In the sectarian apocalypse, everyone has a role to play in a script written over a thousand years ago. No one wants to miss the show.”


  • Who Will Win The Senate? – According to the New York Times: “According to our statistical election-forecasting machine, the Republicans have a moderate edge, with about a 68% chance of gaining a majority.”
  • Are Economists Ready for Income Redistribution? “It’s not the job of economists to tell society whether or not they should redistribute income, or if fiscal policy should be used to combat recessions. It’s to inform society of the potential consequences of policy actions, good or bad, and how to best reach particular goals. Too many economists allow their ideological beliefs to color the research they conduct, the advice they give, and the presumed goals of policy.”
  • Address of the Holy Father Francis at the inauguration of a bronze bust in honor of Pope Benedict XVI at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 27/10/2014 – “Are you addressing the issue highly complex evolution of the concept of nature. I will not go at all, I understand well, the scientific complexity of this important and decisive question. I just want to point out that God and Christ walking with us, and are also found in nature, as stated by the apostle Paul in the Areopagus speech: “In God we live and move and have our being” ( Acts 17:28). When we read in the Genesis account of Creation in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand that can do all things. But it does not. He created beings and let them develop in accordance with the internal laws that He has given to each one, because they develop it because it arrived to its fullest. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time in which he assured them of his continued presence, giving being to all reality. Thus, the creation has been going on for centuries, millennia and millennia until it became what we know today, because God is not a creator or a wizard, but the Creator who gives being to all entities. The beginning of the world is not the work of the chaos that has another of its origin, but is derived directly from a supreme principle which creates love. The Big Bang , which today stands at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine creator intervention but demands it. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”


Understanding Julian Assange – does Sweden’s forthcoming election hold the key?

August 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Perhaps the Swedish opinion polls hold the key to the rather cryptic prediction by Julian Assange that he will soon be leaving the protection of the Embassy of Ecuador in London. The centre-right Alliance for Sweden coalition government (comprising the Moderate Party, Liberal People’s Party, Centre Party, and Christian Democrats) is trailing well behind the probable left of centre left coalition led by the Social Democrats. An Ipsos poll this week had the three parties of the left holding a comfortable lead over the four party governing coalition by 50 per cent to 36 per cent. That surely raises the prospect that the Wikileaks founder is banking on a leftist Sweden being far less likely than the current administration of extraditing him to the United States after his criminal investigation is dealt with.

The general election will be held on 14 September.

The trend of the Swedish opinion polls - from Wikileaks

The trend of the Swedish opinion polls – from Wikileaks

Why are Palestinian war deaths publicised more than Syrian ones?

August 7th, 2014 Comments off

With a cease fire between Israelis and Palestinians it’s an opportune time to think again about Syria where a real slaughter is taking place that does not dominate the newspapers and the airwaves.

From the Syrian Network for Human Rights:

Death Toll since the Beginning of the Revolution until the End of June/2014
First: The Syrian Regime
The Syrian regime forces killed no less than 133586 people; including 109347 civilian
(88% of the total) among them 15149 children and 13695 women. In addition, 4892
person were killed under torture.
This suggests that the Syrian regime kills four civilians every hour and 100 civilians
every day as a daily average
A child is killed every two hours
A woman is killed per three hours.
Second: The Armed Factions Affiliated to Al-Qaeda
They killed about two thousand people as we’ve documented no less than 1607 people
including 588 civilian among them 67 children and 53 women.
Third: Other Armed Groups
They killed 438 civilians, among them 29 children and 36 women.

Note: The figures do not include the death toll in the government forces or the IS.

The SNHCR death toll for July was 2549.

Categories: International politics, Media Tags:

A Prime Minister without spin doctors

July 25th, 2014 Comments off

A 70-year-old aide who does not mix with journalists as a public relations officer and for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that’s the media team. This novel approach of largely ignoring the press extends as far as not inviting New Delhi political correspondents to fly on Air India One for international visits. And the flacks, the BBC reports, are sulking about it.

Ministers and bureaucrats have also been reportedly told to avoid the media and speak only when Mr Modi offers an “official line”.

“Mr Modi’s attitude is now percolating to his council of ministers who were once media friendly, but are now avoiding journalists,” says senior journalist Kuldip Nayar.

Even the media-friendly Finance Minister Arun Jaitley offered just a handful of interviews after presenting the federal budget earlier this month.

Mr Modi has deputed Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, both former party spokesmen, to speak on behalf of the government.

Mr Modi has not spoken about limiting access to journalists, but many observers say it may have something to do with his troubled relationship with the media.

When he was the chief minister of Gujarat, he faced severe media criticism for doing little to stop anti-Muslim riots in his state in 2002 which left more than 1,000 dead. He has always denied the allegations.

“He simply doesn’t trust the media very much,” says a senior journalist, who prefers to remain unnamed.

As for the PR man, Jagdish Thakkar, he is described by journalists as rarely interacting with the media. “He simply smiles. And then we smile. There is no exchange of information,” says a senior reporter, requesting anonymity.

Categories: International politics, Media Tags:

Selecting a Cabinet with the help of social media

July 25th, 2014 Comments off

Indonesia’s President-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is using an unusual method to help him select a Cabinet. He is asking people to vote on his website for one of three choices for each of the 34 available posts. There is also an option to write in another name.

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25-07-2014 cabinetvoteThe Jakarta Post this morning says several names from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, Coordinating Economic Minister Chairul Tanjung, Bank Indonesia (BI) Governor Agus Martowardojo, former trade minister Gita Wirjawan and State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan are on the list.

The list also includes former UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic state university rector Azyumardi Azra and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim, who are touted as potential religious affairs minister candidates, while popular economists including National Economy Council member Aviliani, Gadjah Mada University (UGM) academic Sri Adiningsih and energy expert Kurtubi are named as potential candidates to fill economic posts.

Several Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politicians, including Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, Pramono Anung, Maruarar Sirait, Puan Maharani, Hasto Kristiyanto and Eva Kusuma Sundari are also on the list.

When asked about the survey, Jokowi said, “I just want to hear the public’s views.”


Categories: International politics Tags:

A victory for Jokowi and the Morgan Poll in Indonesia

July 10th, 2014 Comments off

2014-07-10_jakartaThey have reason to be feeling pleased with themselves at the Morgan Poll headquarters in Melbourne this morning after predicting with some accuracy the result of yesterday’s Indonesian presidential election. The snapshot results findings based on results from a sample of polling booths

The Jakarta Post says the quick counts from “the credible institutions”, based on results from a sample of polling booths, indicate that Jokowi won around 52 percent of the vote, with 48 percent going to Prabowo. The Morgan Poll’s final poll said:

Long-time favourite Jokowi (52%) holds a narrow lead over Prabowo Subianto (48%) according to yesterday’s Roy Morgan Poll on the Indonesian Presidential Election conducted in June 2014 with 3,117 Indonesian electors.The KPU is expected to announce the official result no later than July 22.

The KPU [General Elections Commission] of Indonesia  is expected to announce the official result no later than July 22.


Trust the wisdom of the International Monetary Fund? Be it at your own risk

July 5th, 2014 Comments off

Another example of the true meaning when the board announces it has full confidence in the coach!

IMF Concludes Staff Visit to Bulgaria

Press Release No. 14/278
June 12, 2014

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission visited Sofia during June 6–11, 2014, to discuss the economic outlook and government policies with the Bulgarian authorities. At the conclusion of this regular staff visit, Ms. Michele Shannon, IMF Mission Chief for Bulgaria, made the following statement: …

Regarding the financial sector, the implementation of the new EU regulatory regime is on track, including through the adoption of maximum capital conservation and systemic risk buffers applicable to all banks. In addition, the elimination of specific provisions resulted in a commensurate increase in regulatory capital. While credit growth remains low, the system is stable and liquid, with banks’ non-performing loans buffered by provisions and significant capital, as well as a positive net foreign asset position. Efforts by banks to address the stock of distressed assets and claim associated collateral should continue in order to lower asset price uncertainty and thereby support renewed investment.

(Note: emphasis added by the Owl.)

Accusations fly in Bulgaria’s murky bank run

SOFIA Fri Jul 4, 2014 5:50am EDT

(Reuters) – One worker at Bulgaria’s Corporate Commercial Bank knew panic was setting in when she spotted colleagues among the anxious depositors lined up to withdraw cash from the troubled bank.

The alarm came in part because the week before, on June 13, with television news crews filming, Bulgarian state prosecutors had raided a building in Sofia that housed Corpbank offices.

Though both the prosecutors and the bank said the raid did not target Corpbank – the building housed other companies as well – customers soon began to withdraw their savings. Within days, the Central Bank had seized control of the bank, the fourth-biggest lender in Bulgaria, and suspended its operations for three months.

Though both the prosecutors and the bank said the raid did not target Corpbank – the building housed other companies as well – customers soon began to withdraw their savings. Within days, the Central Bank had seized control of the bank, the fourth-biggest lender in Bulgaria, and suspended its operations for three months.

The dramatic raid and bank run were reminders that despite progress from the worst days of the euro crisis, parts of Europe’s financial system are still far from secure. The run quickly spread to another bank and saw Sofia announce a protective $2.3 billion credit line.

Muslims don’t much like al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah either

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

There is a terrible tendency to tar everyone with the same brush when fear and loathing is in the air. Hence the importance of this Pew Research Center survey conducted in predominantly Muslim countries.

The headline findings:

As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. And in the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago.

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Meanwhile, publics hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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In Nigeria, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians alike, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that recently kidnapped hundreds of girls in the restive north of the country. And a majority of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the Taliban.

Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies. And support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade. Still, in some countries a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.

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These are the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 14,244 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations from April 10 to May 25, 2014. The survey was conducted prior to the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).


Tony Abbott’s Sri Lanka at peace – unlawful killings by security forces … an environment of fear … involuntary disappearances … torture by police

July 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Prime Minister Tony Abbott this morning at one of his doorstop press conferences:


Prime Minister, what’s happening in the Indian Ocean?


What’s happening is that the Government is purposefully and methodically ensuring that our borders are protected and that the boats are stopped.


Does the public have a right to know about asylum seekers being intercepted at sea?


The public deserve safe and secure borders. They deserve a country which has not become open for the wrong kind of business – the people smuggling business – and one of the tragedies of the six years prior to September was that the red carpet had been laid out for people smugglers and their customers. Now, we’ve rolled up that particular red carpet. The way is closed. They can keep trying but we will keep responding in an appropriate way, doing exactly what we said we would do before the election and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Now I want to make two points: everything that we do is consistent with safety at sea and everything that we do is consistent with our international obligations.


You said earlier this morning that Sri Lanka was at peace. Does that mean that Tamils no longer have legitimate asylum seeker claims?


Well it is a peaceful country – it is a peaceful country. I don’t say it’s a perfect country, not even Australia is that, but it is a peaceful country and all of us should be grateful that the horrific civil war is well and truly over. That is to the benefit of every single Sri Lankan, Tamil, Sinhalese; everyone in Sri Lanka is infinitely better off as a result of the cessation of the civil war.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – SRI LANKA 2013 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multi-party republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to a second six-year term in 2010. The Parliament, which was elected in 2010, shares constitutional power with the president. The president’s family dominates government. Two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts, as defense secretary and economic development minister, and a third brother is the speaker of Parliament. A large number of the president’s other relatives, including his son, also serve in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Polls were fraught with election law violations by all major parties, especially the governing coalition’s use of state resources for its own advantage. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.

The major human rights problems were: attacks on, and harassment of, civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization by individuals allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who  disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary. Disappearances and killings continued to diminish in comparison with the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, attacks, harassment, and threats by progovernment loyalists against critics of the government were prevalent, contributed to widespread self-censorship by journalists, and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities; and neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Defendants often faced lengthy pretrial detention, and an enormous backlog of cases plagued the justice system. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government, and most major media outlets were controlled by the government. Self-censorship by journalists was widespread, and the government censored some news websites. Citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere on the island, although there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off-limits. IDPs were not always free to choose where to resettle. The president exercised his constitutional authority to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights issues. Lack of government transparency and widespread government corruption were serious concerns. Sexual violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of the victims of human rights violations were Tamils. There was an increase in discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.

Government officials and others tied to the ruling coalition enjoyed a high degree of impunity. The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Individuals suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces.

The moral cesspit of Iraq

July 2nd, 2014 Comments off

The Iraq Stain – Paul Krugman writes:

I don’t write much about Iraq and all that these days, but this report from James Risen brings back the horror of the whole thing. And I don’t just mean the fact that we were lied into war; that most of our media and policy elite rushed to join the bandwagon; that the venture led to awesome waste of lives and money.

No, Iraq was also a moral cesspit. Not only were we taken to war on false pretenses, it was clear that this was done in part for domestic political gain. The occupation was treated not as a solemn task on which the nation’s honor depended, but as an opportunity to reward cronies. And don’t forget the torture.

So in a way it’s not too surprising to learn that we didn’t just, incredibly, rely heavily on politically connected mercenaries, but that said mercenaries threatened violence against our own officials:

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

And guess what:

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show.

But it’s still shocking, and a reminder of just how deep the betrayal went.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Kevin 16 off and running for top UN job

June 25th, 2014 Comments off

Kevin Rudd is reportedly off and running hard in the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general of the United Nations. While Ban will not leave office until the end of 2016, World Politics Review reports that a lot of pretty serious politicians want to run the UN.

Two people who do seem to want to be secretary-general are both Antipodean ex-premiers: Helen Clark and Kevin Rudd. Clark, prime minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, now runs the U.N. Development Program, and signaled her desire to replace Ban in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. Her prospects would improve if Ban and she can secure a deal on future international development goals, which should be finalized at a U.N. summit in September 2015.

Meanwhile Rudd, Australian prime minister from 2007 to 2010 and again briefly last year, has a strong reputation for top-level multilateral diplomacy. He was one of the few leaders said to have impressed President Barack Obama in G-20 debates during the financial crisis. Rudd has been energetically engaging in U.N. affairs over the past six months, reportedly lobbying to be the organization’s next envoy to Syria.

Categories: International politics Tags:

My new political favourite – The Best Party shows the way

June 22nd, 2014 Comments off

The policies were unorthodox. Well, certainly the non-core ones.

Electors were promised free towels at swimming pools, a polar bear for the zoo, the import of Jews, “so that someone who understands something about economics finally comes to Iceland”, a drug-free parliament by 2020, inaction (“we’ve worked hard all our lives and want to take a well-paid four-year break now”), Disneyland with free weekly passes for the unemployed (“where they can have themselves photographed with Goofy”), greater understanding for the rural population (“every Icelandic farmer should be able to take a sheep to a hotel for free”), free bus tickets.

Then the core promise caveat.

“We can promise more than any other party because we will break every campaign promise.”

And the election result? The Best Party, described as anarcho-surrealists, were to govern Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik for four years.

Tages Anzeiger provides delightful details of the victory and its consequences.

The leading candidate, Jón Gnarr, a comedian by profession, entered the riotous hall full of drunken anarchists looking rather circumspect. Almost shyly, he raised his fist and said: “Welcome to the revolution!” And: “Hurray for all kinds of things!”

Gnarr was now the mayor of Reykjavik. After the Prime Minister, he held the second-most important office in the land. A third of all Icelanders live in the capital and another third commute to work there. The city is the country’s largest employer and its mayor the boss of some 8,000 civil servants.

No wonder the result was such a shock. Reykjavik was beset by crises: the crash of the banking system had also brought everything else to the verge of bankruptcy – the country, the city, companies and inhabitants. And the anarcho-surrealist party – the self-appointed Best Party – was composed largely of rock stars, mainly former punks. Not one of them had ever been part of any political body. Their slogan for overcoming the crisis was simple: “More punk, less hell!”

Key to the astounding victory was The Best Party’s campaign video.

And did politicians with a sense of humour actually actually work as a government? Apparently.

An assessment of four years of anarchist rule yields a rather surprising conclusion: the punks put the city’s financial house in order. They can also look back on some very successful speeches, a few dozen kilometers of bike paths, a zoning plan, a new school organization (that no one complains about any more) and a relaxed, booming city – tourism is growing by 20% a year (and some say that is the new bubble). In speeches, president Grímsson no longer praises Icelanders’ killer instinct, but their creativity. Real estate prices are again on the rise and the Range Rovers are back too. In polls last October, the Best Party hit its high-water mark of 38%. Shortly thereafter, Gnarr announced he would retire and dissolve the Best Party. His reason: “I’m a comedian, not a politician.” He added: “I was a cab driver for four years, a really good one even, and I quit doing that as well.”

“My question was always: ‹How do we fuck the system?” says [a former punk band member Einar] Örn. “And the answer was, we show that non-politicians can do the job as well. But quitting with a certain election victory within reach, that’s truly fucking the system!”

Categories: Elections, International politics Tags:

Learning from Canada – a warning for Tony Abbott

June 14th, 2014 Comments off

Tony Abbott tells us he is impressed by the example of politics in Canada. The country’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to Abbott, is a ‘‘guide’’ and a ‘‘beacon.’’ On a visit this week he declared ‘‘I have regarded Stephen Harper as an exemplar of a contemporary centre-right prime minister.’’ The Canadian Conservative Party policies of fiscal rectitude with a reduction in the size of government and the role of the state are clearly in line with the current direction of the Australian Liberal Party.

But at the time Tony Abbott was praising his host, voters in Canada’s largest state of Ontario were giving the thumbs down to Harper like policies of fiscal restraint. The people there voted to turn the Liberal state government from a minority one into one with a clear majority.

On the front page of the National Post, a Canadian equivalent of The Australian, this morning was this verdict on the vote’s significance by its commentator Andrew Coyne:

In 2011, Tim Hudak sought to minimize his differences with Dalton McGuinty, downplaying economic conservatism in favour of a clutch of populist wedge issues. He threw away a 12-point lead and handed victory to the Liberals. People like me criticized him sharply for it. If only he’d offered people a clearer choice, we counselled — had he been more forthright, more substantive, more principled — he’d be premier today. So, in 2014, Mr. Hudak ran on the kind of staunchly conservative platform we favoured, and dropped four points.
There isn’t any point in sugar-coating it. This election was very much a referendum on fiscal conservatism, and the fiscal conservatives lost. Yes, the Conservative campaign was a mess, and yes, the Liberal leader, Kathleen Wynne, proved an effective fear-monger. But the central issue in this campaign, unambiguously, was fiscal policy — the Liberals ran on their budget, and the Tories ran on theirs, the Million Jobs Plan. Everyone agreed this election presented the voters with a clear choice, perhaps the clearest in 20 years. And they made their choice, just as clearly.

Just a little something for our Prime Minister to think about.

Operation Iraqi Freedom – what were these 4804 deaths for?

June 14th, 2014 Comments off

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I am waiting for Messrs Bush, Blair, Howard and other advocates of the war in Iraq to explain again to the families of the dead what was achieved by 4804 sacrifices.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Making a monkey of the opinion polls

June 11th, 2014 Comments off

Every now and again we get a reminder that opinion polls are not an infallible guide to public opinion. In yesterday’s primary election to choose the Republican candidate for Virginia’s 7th congressional district the polls showed the incumbent Congressman Eric Cantor well ahead.

As The New Yorker reported: “According to Nate Silver, his internal polling showed him ahead by more than twenty points. A poll carried out on June 2nd by the Daily Caller did indicate that the race was narrowing somewhat, but even that poll showed Brat trailing Cantor by twelve points, forty per cent to fifty-two per cent.”

And the result? The challenger college professor Dave Brat ousted seven-term House Majority Leader Eric Cantor with 56 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 44 percent.

To make the result even more remarkable, the professor spent $122,000 on his campaign to his opponent’s $5 million plus.

Reporting a military coup – this morning’s Bangkok papers

May 23rd, 2014 Comments off


The military seized power, dissolving the caretaker government, suspending the constitution and ordering protesters to return home in a bloodless coup yesterday.
The power seizure took place after talks between the pro- and anti-government camps failed for a second day yesterday.
The army brought them together for talks to settle the country’s protracted political conflict, without success.
Military sources said the negotiations were brought to an end after the government insisted on holding on to power.
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who chaired the talks, left the Army Auditorium, the venue of the talks, as soldiers moved in to detain all negotiators and whisked them away in passenger vans.
Representatives of the Senate and the Election Commission were later allowed to go free.
Radio and television stations were ordered to suspend their normal broadcasts. A curfew between 10pm-5am was imposed and gatherings of more than five people banned.
All schools nationwide were ordered closed from today until Sunday.
In its first coup statement, the military cited the eruption of violence in Bangkok and other provinces which resulted in many deaths and injuries in the past months as the reasons behind the power seizure.
Appearing on all television channels along with other armed forces leaders and the national police chief about 4.30pm, Gen Prayuth read the statement.
He said the violence in the country had been escalating to such an extent that it stood to undermine national security and public safety.
The coup would help restore normalcy and national unity, ensure reform of political, economic and social institutions, and ensure legitimacy to all sides, he added.


Australia back on the Indonesian front page

May 7th, 2014 Comments off
Migrant issue puts end to Indonesia-Australia thaw

Migrant issue puts end to Indonesia-Australia thaw

(Click to enlarge)

After many weeks of very little coverage in the Indonesian media that country’s relations with Australia are back on the front page.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s attempt to repair strained bilateral ties with Jakarta is being stymied by a recent incident in which Australian navy ships towed back a boatload of undocumented migrants to Indonesian waters and added three extra passengers — including an Indonesian — to the boat.
The incident was brought to light a few hours before Abbott phoned President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono while the latter was attending the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Asia-Pacific Regional Conference in Bali on Tuesday.

… Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he had been informed of an incident where several undocumented migrants were added by the Australian authorities to a boat and towed back to Indonesia.
“If confirmed, it is a very serious development,” he said.
Presidential spokesman for foreign affairs Teuku Faizasyah said Jakarta was taking the incident seriously and despite Abbott’s conciliatory gesture, an assessment would be made to decide whether the incident would hamper the process of improving relations.

… The two Albanians were heading to Australia from Rote Islands, NTT, on a separate boat. After entering Australian waters, the Australian navy ordered the two and the Indonesian crew member to move onto the boat occupied by the Nepalese and Indians, a police preliminary investigation has found.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Getting oil men to finance the campaign for oil industry regulator

May 6th, 2014 Comments off

The oil explorers in Texas do some things in the same way as coal developers in New South Wales. They manage to find a dollar for “worthy” candidates. Take the case of George Prescott Bush, the 38-year-old son of Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. He is the latest generation of the the Bush family dynasty to seek a job in politics and has won the Republican primary election to stand for the post of Texas Land Commissioner come November.


Now that might not be the grandest elected office in the USA but it is the kind of first step that political aspirants for higher things usually take. And it does provide a means of making contact with the rich and powerful of the State, especially those in the oil business, whose dollars go a long way towards success. For the Texas Land Commissioner has the twin responsibilities of both promoting oil and gas development on state lands and waters and ensuring oil and gas companies are paying the correct amount in royalties. On his campaign website, George P. Bush says he aims to increase energy production and fight excessive federal regulation.

As land commissioner I will support the responsible stewardship of our resources and the reasonable drilling of oil and natural gas on our public lands. We can and we should do both. The days of false choices between protecting the environment on one side and promoting job creation is over. Here in Texas we are going to take care of our resources and take care of our people at the same time.

Second, we’re going to fight excessive federal regulation. Too often too many regulations from Washington D.C. have been passed that make little to no sense at all. So we’re going to fight back, and we’re going to fight back hard here in the state of Texas. So my goal for our state is that we once again become the energy leader of the world. Nothing more, and nothing less.

They are the kind of aims oil men seem find attractive. AlJazeera America noted this month a distinguishing feature of George P. Bush’s quest for public office: a campaign war chest totaling $2.2 million — a significant portion of that money furnished by the same industry he will go on to regulate if he wins.

A glance at the names populating his campaign’s list of top-level donors reveals a who’s who of the state’s wealthiest oil and gas executives.

Anne Marion, heiress to the fortune of Fort Worth–based Burnett Oil Co., gave $50,000, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission and compiled by The Texas Tribune. Jan Rees Jones, wife of Trevor Jones, president and CEO of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas provided another $50,000. James Henry, a longtime veteran of the oil industry and chair of Henry Resources LLC, another oil and gas exploration firm, lent $40,000 to the effort. Syed Javaid Anwar, president of Midland Energy, kicked in $40,000.

In all, Al Jazeera tabulated that individuals tied to energy companies contributed at least $450,000 to Bush’s first political effort.

A note: One thing that certainly differs between Texas and NSW is the detailed returns that the Bush campaign furnishes on money raised and spent – right down to the level of disclosing $6 paid for parking at Sundance Square, Forth Worth.

An opinion about China to frighten Australians

April 30th, 2014 Comments off

It is only an opinion so let’s hope it’s wrong:

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But then, London’s Financial Times is no tabloid scare monger.

Just another little something to think about when studying all those budget forecasts and projections out into the distant never-never on Tuesday week.

Prasenjit Basu is founder of, an independent economic research firm. His rather frightening conclusion:

In a country that already accounts for half of all capital-intensive production globally, and nearly a fifth of all US imports, the growth of manufacturing will inevitably slow. A thriving service sector could pick up some of the slack. But building more houses and railways is not the way to encourage it.
China’s economy is in an unbalanced state. It can stay that way for some time – but the longer it does, the worse the eventual outcome will be. The industrial sector is already plagued by falling prices. To avert a wider deflationary spiral, the country needs to wean itself off the false cure of perpetual policy stimulus.

Obama acting like his mother’s son in foreign policy?

April 30th, 2014 Comments off

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The question posed Tuesday morning on page one of the LA Times clearly puzzles many as, no doubt,  did his response at a press conference in Manila at the end of his latest Asian tour as he answered with a couple of questions of his own:

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?”

Quite by accident I stumbled recently on an article published in the Asian Times online back in January 2010 that perhaps helps explain why Barack Obama is the least belligerent US President at least since Dwight Eisenhower. She had a dream is a review of a book by Obama’s mother S Ann Dunham that a  group of economic and cultural anthropologists, who worked with her for more than 30 years, published after her death from cancer.

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Notes the reviewer Dinesh Sharma:

Caught between the Beat generation and the hippies, Dunham was a product of the radical ideals of the 1960s and raised her children with the same idealism and values, recalled Alice Dewey, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, who was a mentor and friend of Dunham.

When US President Barack Obama accepted the Noble Peace Prize, he fulfilled one of the cherished dreams of his mother to be a peacemaker. “She would be so proud of him right now,” said Alice Dewey as she became tearful. “Ann Dunham was becoming well known in her own right and getting recognized for her development work before she passed away.”

It is these observations by Sharma that suggest the influence the mother might have had on the son:

Her passion for working with the rural poor in Indonesia was founded on her belief in equality, King, and the civil rights movement; her choices in life partners were a reflection of this commitment. Barack Obama literally grew up in the field; when Dunham traveled around the islands of Indonesia and to other cultures both Barack and his sister Maya often accompanied her.

In a recent interview, Dewey bluntly told me that Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for putting an end to the policies that pitted America in a “stupid” death match with other cultures. She said his mother above all was a humanist before she was an anthropologist; not a little Margaret Mead, but perhaps a junior Dorothy Day.

“He learned from her that if you did the right things in the local cultures with everyday people that over time you could a make positive difference in people’s lives,” Dewey said.

Dunham would often work on a dozen or more development projects at a time, ranging from helping women’s literacy development to working with local artisans to secure micro-credits or modest loans. This was long before micro lending to the poor became the hot trend in global economics and probably shortly after Muhammad Yunus, the Noble laureate economist, began his work in Bangladesh.

An Australian art historian and curator at the University of Hawaii, Bronwen Solyom, who also worked in Indonesia with Dunham and provided most of the photographs displayed in the book, suggested that she did not have any particular theory of social and economic justice. She was really interested in people; she was a humanitarian. While she wrote a 1,000-page dissertation on economic anthropology, reformers like Gandhi and King, the archetypes of non-violent social change, inspired her.

After reviewing Dunham’s book and speaking with her circle of friends and colleagues, it dawned on me that the role of the peacemaker, with a heightened ability to deploy soft power as a political tool, is not just an abstract idea or a strategy for President Obama. It seems to be neither a clever gimmick nor a hopefully naive, idealistic and doomed-to-fail policy designed by White House analysts.

This runs deeper; it is in his DNA. Part and parcel of an inheritance that harkens back to his mother’s early socialization, the role of the peacemaker is a product of a transmuted, intergenerational dream of changing the world one village at a time. His mother’s unfinished dreams, albeit tenuously, still bind the elements of Obama’s foreign and domestic policies with his political identity.

Categories: International politics Tags:

It’s sushi for a President – Barack Obama at Tokyo’s most famous sushi restaurant

April 24th, 2014 Comments off

It has three Michelin stars, only 10 seats and Barack Obama was the guest there yesterday of Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe.
And the presidential verdict on Sukiyabashi Jiro? “That’s some good sushi right there,” he said. “It was terrific. Thank you so much.”

David Gelb, who directed a film about Jiro Ono described for US National Public Radio what it’s like to dine at such an iconic place.

For starters, the restaurant is hidden in the basement of an office building and offers only one item on its menu — the omakase course, which can cost between $300 and $400 per person. It consists of 20 pieces of sushi, prepared and served one at a time.
“There are no appetizers, no rolls of any kind,” Gelb says. “It’s purely his style of sushi, which is kind of the classic Tokyo style, which is basically just fish and rice and seasoning, maybe a soy sauce or a nikiri, which is a kind of sweetened soy sauce.”

And if you’re fortunate enough to be one of Ono’s costumers, don’t even think about ordering off the menu — even if you are the president of the United States. “The Jiro that I know would not change his sushi for anyone,” Gelb says, adding that “he just gives you what he feels is the best of the day.”

There are a few clues on the maestro’s website to help us mere mortals improve our own sushi style.

  • Get the temperature right

Sushi rice or vinegared rice (su-meshi or shari) is the first consideration for nigirizushi (literally, hand-formed sushi). And the most important point for shari is to keep its temperature around the human body temperature, otherwise the sushi will never satisfy the customer. Our practice is to cook the rice so that it is done about 30 minutes before we welcome customers, to meet their high expectationsIt takes about 60 minutes from starting to wash the rice until it is done (we only use cast iron gas rice cookers that cook the rice for sushi much better than an electric cooker). The vinegar mixture or dressing prepared for sushi is slowly poured over the cooked rice to blend with it. It is then cooled down to body temperature and placed in a covered wooden rice tub, which is in turn placed in a covered straw container to keep the temperature. The vinegar mixture is absorbed by the rice to make the hardness of each grain of rice perfect for sushi. Now the shari is done.

  •  Choose the rice vinegar carefully

Jiro’s sushi rice or shari is prepared with a slight sourness for a better taste, and we increase the sourness in the height of summer. We use natural salt from salt evaporation pools containing much bittern (or nigari for culinary use in Japanese) to prepare our vinegar mixture for sushi.
Our shari with its mild taste and slight sourness, when topped with neta or sushi toppings, produces an outstanding balance, an exquisite combination of pure flavors between shari and neta, which is very important for sushi.

  • Control the temperature of the toppings

The flavor and taste of neta or sushi toppings, which are typically raw fish, greatly depend on the temperature at which each topping is kept before use. Some toppings must be kept slightly cool; others must be kept at room temperature or around human body temperature.About 20 different toppings are offered at Sukiyabashi Jiro. We very carefully control the temperature of these toppings until immediately before serving to ensure that each topping is served at the ideal temperature.

Categories: Eating, International politics Tags:

Indonesia’s politics of depression

April 14th, 2014 Comments off

The impact of defeat on the mental health of election candidates is not a subject I have ever thought about but perhaps Jeff Kennett’s  Beyond Blue should put it on its ends. At least if the Indonesian experience, a country where the subject has been studied, is any kind of guide.

The Jakarta Post reported this morning that many candidates who failed to secure votes in the recent legislative election have become depressed after reportedly giving everything they had, including personal funds, in their efforts to win votes. Recent reports from across the country have shown that of 6,600 legislative candidates running for seats in the House of Representatives, a handful have fallen into depression, displayed maniacal tendencies, or even resorted to suicide due to the losses they suffered. A tragic report came from Banjar, West Java, where a young mother hanged herself after losing in the legislative election. Local residents found her body in a bamboo hut in Limusnunggal hamlet, Ciamis regency, West Java.


See an earlier story The election voting is over so get the psychiatrists ready

Categories: Elections, International politics Tags:

The election voting is over so get the psychiatrists ready

April 9th, 2014 Comments off

The voting is over in the Indonesian parliamentary elections and the psychiatrists are preparing for the consequences. According to a recent Jakarta Globe report, hospital staff and psychologists at hospitals across the archipelago are readying themselves and preparing extra beds for a new batch of losing candidates.

“Most of the legislative candidates who will be prone [to depression] are beginners who are not ready to lose,” Fadhilah Masjaya, the director of Atma Husada Hospital in Samarinda, said in the East Kalimantan capital on Thursday. “Some of them probably have spent Rp 1 billion [$88,000] alone — then it’s wasted and they become distressed.”

Fadhilah added that most candidates would not, however, suffer from major depressive symptoms.

“We’ll treat them no different to other patients,” he said.

In Balikpapan, a booming mining city on the East Kalimantan coast, the local health agency has instructed community health clinics, known as Puskesmas, to make the necessary preparations.

“We’ve opened special posts at all Puskesmas; they’re ready to treat legislative candidates who are mildly or heavily depressed,” Balikpapan Health Agency head Dyah Muryani said. “We’ve also prepared [psychiatrists]. Doctors at Puskesmas can refer patients to hospitals or to psychiatrists.”

The newspaper report said that in the aftermath of the 2009 legislative elections, when parties began randomly recruiting legislative candidates to lure voters, the Indonesian media was packed with reports of depressed also-rans admitted to psychiatric wards, suffering public breakdowns and committing suicide. Most of the cases were attributed to losing in the elections after huge spending, which rendered many of the candidates heavily indebted.

To anticipate recurrence, Social Services Minister Salim Segaf Al-Jufri last month called on hospitals across the regions, particularly the mental health hospitals, to allocate special wards to treat such patients.

“We predict that there will be a lot of distressed legislative candidates, especially those who lose, after the elections,” Salim said, according to “Therefore we’ve coordinated with local administrations and hospitals to prepare special wards.”


Categories: Elections, International politics Tags:

The climate change disaster that is the Marshall Islands

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

Tidal flooding in the Marshall Islands this week – the third time this year for the capital of Majuro atoll – rated a brief mention on the overseas services of Australia’s ABC but was ignored by local mainstream media. Small natural disasters just aren’t newsworthy even if they do provide evidence of the damage being caused by rising sea levels.

The Marshall Islands Foreign Minister, Phillip Muller, pointed to the damage global warming is doing to his collection of Pacific Islands when he warned his country will be ‘wiped off the map’ unless global efforts to cut greenhouse gases accelerate.

This is the most serious king tide we have seen in the Marshall Islands for some 30 years, and the third flooding of Majuro atoll, our capital, in the last year alone.


(Click on map to enlarge)

There is no question that these events are increasing in their seriousness and regularity, consistent with the clear scientific information that sea levels are rising faster in the Central-West Pacific than nearly anywhere else in the world…

While we are doing what we can, even the most conservative estimates of sea-level rise, including from the latest US National Climate Assessment, suggest that RMI will literally be wiped off the map some time before the end of the century, given the appalling lack of effort by big emitters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions…

While king tides are not new to the Marshall Islands, their frequency and ferocity are clearly intensifying.  For those of us in the Pacific, silly discussions about scientific truth are futile.

We know what we see with our own eyes, and our tide gauges prove that the oceans are rising.  We know there is only one explanation for this unprecedented phenomenon:  climate change has arrived.


Categories: Environment, International politics Tags:

A supine Australian government response to the Malaysian treatment of Anwar Ibrahim

March 8th, 2014 Comments off

2014-03-08_anwarIt rather looks as if once again it will be left to independent Senator Nick Xenophon in Australia to dare to criticise the continuing prosecution of the prominent Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim. A Malaysian court yesterday overturned Anwar’s acquittal by a lower court on a sodomy charges and sentenced him to five years’ jail, ruling he had anal intercourse with his male aide in 2008.

The Australian Government continues to avoid making any criticism of Malaysia but the United States has voiced concern over what it says are politically motivated charges brought against Anwar, urging Malaysia to ensure fairness and transparency. “The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary.” As the ABC reports, Anwar’s case was loudly condemned as politically motivated, and when asked whether this was still the US stand, Ms Psaki replied “It is.”

Last year Senator Xenophon, who earlier was refused entry into Malaysia, was instrumental in having Anwar invited to speak at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. He wrote then:

“Anwar Ibrahim is a beacon of hope for democracy not just in Malaysia but for the entire region. Despite over six years imprisonment in solitary confinement on false charges – eventually quashed – and being severely beaten in custody, Anwar remains an inspirational and optimistic icon for democratic change.

“Since being deported and banned from Malaysia earlier this year, it means I can no longer visit Anwar in his home country. It is great that he has been able to visit Adelaide to share his incredible experiences and insights with us all.”

When the Anwar visit actually took place, the Malaysian government warned it nationals studying in Australia not to attend his public gathering. Anwar used an article in The Australian to criticise the Australian government’s response to that instruction.

As a liberal democracy, the ability to be able to express views freely in a peaceful manner is a cornerstone of your society.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, after independent senator Nick Xenophon and I called on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn the threat and to protect students attending my talk, the response was so weak.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade merely responded with a statement, saying: “All students residing in Australia, including Malaysian students, enjoy all rights and liberties available under the Australian law, including the ability to attend a wide variety of legitimate events taking place in Australia. The Festival of Ideas in Adelaide is one such event.”

Contrast this with the US State Department telling the Malaysian embassy in Washington to back off when it made similar threats there.

My talk highlighted the tragic state of democracy in Malaysia, conveniently ignored by this and the previous Australian governments.

The grave flaws of Malaysia’s election system were highlighted last year by an independent, international fact-finding mission, of which Senator Xenophon was a member.

The mission flagged grave concerns about the integrity of the electoral roll, phantom voters, voter intimidation, a corruption-prone postal-voting system and, overall, the potential for massive electoral fraud.

There is also a severe gerrymander favouring the government. The Secretary General of the ruling party, for example, has only 7000 voters in his electorate. The deputy leader of the opposition has 100,000 voters in his electorate.

And major television stations and newspapers are owned by allies of the government with no airtime or space given for the opposition’s views, apart from outright vilification.

The international fact-finding mission concluded that these restrictions were draconian, because they prevented alternative views being heard.

Little wonder that the ruling coalition has never been out of power in the past 56 years.

The mission’s fears proved well founded at May’s general elections. Despite widespread voter fraud and irregularities, and the official result of almost 52% for the opposition and 47% for the government, the gerrymander still meant the ruling party holds 60% of the seats.

As for me, I am banned from entering any university campus in Malaysia. It seems my time as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC doesn’t qualify me to set foot on campuses in my own country!

I was overwhelmed by the response I received from the Australian public and Malaysian students in Adelaide.

Successive Australian governments have been rightly concerned when such anti-democratic processes prevailed in Myanmar. But their silence at this travesty in Malaysia is deeply saddening. And the response of Ms Bishop to threats made against Malaysian students on Australian soil truly shocks me. –, October 23, 2013.

See an earlier note on Anwar Ibrahim’s continuing political ambitions – A real job for Anwar Ibrahim? 


Categories: International politics Tags:

Those “terrible” budget deficits – a 60 year look at the United States experience

March 5th, 2014 Comments off

Just occasionally, very occasionally, the US government has turned in a budget surplus.

2014-03-05_usbudgetdeficitsAnd has all that profligacy ruined the country?

Just something to think about as you listen to Joe Hockey.


They did it with wine and now Europe is turning to protect the names of it cheeses

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

So you like a King Island brie or a little bit of Italiano locally made parmesan. Well enjoy them while you can because history suggests they won’t be available for long. Not the cheeses themselves, mind you. Just the names.

The European Union is on the warpath in an effort to protect what it claims as unique European food names. It is a repeat of the successful efforts a decade or so ago to get outsiders calling their wines burgundy, moselle, port or sherry.

At the moment the pressure is being applied to the United States as part of negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but Australia’s turn is sure to come.

Before our dairy industry reacts with horror it should remember that getting the Australian wine industry to drop European names turned out to be a blessing in disguise for our industry. Major markets throughout the world did not take long to realise that accurately named wines from Australia were often of better quality and value for money than those with the historical names.

Categories: Eating, International politics Tags:

Human diets around the world have become more similar and other news and views noted along the way Tuesday 4 March

March 4th, 2014 Comments off


A comprehensive new study of global food supplies confirms and thoroughly documents for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar—by a global average of 36 percent—and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security.

“More people are consuming more calories, protein and fat, and they rely increasingly on a short list of major food crops, like wheat, maize and soybean, along with meat and dairy products, for most of their food,” said lead author Colin Khoury, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. “These foods are critical for combating world hunger, but relying on a global diet of such limited diversity obligates us to bolster the nutritional quality of the major crops, as consumption of other nutritious grains and vegetables declines.”

…  The research reveals that the crops now predominant in diets around the world include several that were already quite important a half-century ago—such as wheat, rice, maize and potato. But the emerging “standard global food supply” described by the study also consists of energy-dense foods that have risen to global fame more recently, like soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil. Wheat is a major staple in 97.4 percent of countries and rice in 90.8 percent; soybean has become significant to 74.3 percent of countries.

In contrast, many crops of considerable regional importance—including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam—have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops—for which globally comparable data are not available—have suffered the same fate. For example, a nutritious tuber crop known as Oca, once grown widely in the Andean highlands, has declined significantly in this region both in cultivation and consumption.

  • Putin’s Kampf – Charles Tannock, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, writes:’Russia’s seizure of Crimea is the most naked example of peacetime aggression that Europe has witnessed since Nazi Germany invaded the Sudetenland in 1938. It may be fashionable to belittle the “lessons of Munich,” when Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier appeased Hitler, deferring to his claims on Czechoslovakia. But if the West acquiesces to Crimea’s annexation – the second time Russian President Vladimir Putin has stolen territory from a sovereign state, following Russia’s seizure of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in 2008 – today’s democratic leaders will surely regret their inaction.’
  • Why Obama Shouldn’t Fall for Putin’s Ukrainian Folly – “If there is one absolutely undeniable fact about Ukraine, which screams from every election and every opinion poll since its independence two decades ago, it is that the country’s population is deeply divided between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. Every election victory for one side or another has been by a narrow margin, and has subsequently been reversed by an electoral victory for an opposing coalition. What has saved the country until recently has been the existence of a certain middle ground of Ukrainians sharing elements of both positions; that the division in consequence was not clear cut; and that the West and Russia generally refrained from forcing Ukrainians to make a clear choice between these positions.”
  • The New Ukraine: Inside Kiev’s House of Cards – “In the days after Yanukovych’s fall, the Ukrainian president’s lavish lifestyle spurred outrage around the world. Now the provisional government is struggling to avoid the corruption and clientelism that plagued its predecessors.”
  • The Russo-Papal Alliance in the Mideast – What has brought Russia’s Putin and Pope Francis together?

Will free-rider problems sabotage any hope of an international agreement on climate change?

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off

Back in my Crikey days I wrote several times of my apprehension that despite all the evidence about the damage to come from global warming that the international community would prove incapable of reaching an agreement on what to do about it. The main task of an Australian government should thus, I argued, be about preparing for what we should be doing about it at home rather than wasting all the effort and energy on pretending that we could contribute to a world-wide solution.

My reading today of a paper by Derek Kellenberg, Department Chair & Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Montana and Arik Levinson Professor, Economics Department, Georgetown University has reinforced my pessimism. Their paper “Waste of effort? International environmental agreements” looks at the economic theory predicting that international environmental agreements will fail due to free-rider problems and previous empirical work suggesting that such agreements do not in fact reduce emissions.

The specific subject of the two professors is the Basel Convention and Ban on trade in hazardous waste. The Convention, they note, was adopted to address concerns about so-called ‘toxic trade’ – waste shipments from industrialised countries to parts of the world where disposal is presumably less safe.

Although hazardous waste disposal is a local issue and might not appear to require international cooperation, if some countries cannot appropriately regulate disposal or prevent importation on their own, trade restrictions may be a second-best policy. As a consequence, the Convention’s Ban Amendment prohibits all exports of hazardous waste from countries listed in Annex 7 (all OECD and European Union countries plus Liechtenstein) to all other countries not listed in Annex 7.

Their examination of import and export data reached the sad conclusion that there was “no evidence that Annex-7 countries that ratified the Ban slowed their exports to non-Annex-7 countries as the agreement requires.”


In a concluding summary of their study soon to be published in the forthcoming inaugural issue of the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists they write:

Might these results have implications for other international environmental problems, such as climate change? At one level the issues seem quite different. Climate change involves a global pollutant emitted at the place where goods are used or produced, whereas hazardous wastes are local pollutants separated from their place of generation and shipped globally. That difference means that the world’s hazardous waste problems are potentially solvable without international agreements, because the pollution does not typically span international borders. In that respect, the fact that the Basel Convention and Ban appear ineffective is disheartening, and suggests that alternative policy mechanisms and strategies that go beyond voluntary IEAs [International Environmental Agreements] may be needed to solve large global problems like climate change.

Categories: Environment, International politics Tags:

Gareth Evans gives Julie Bishop a diplomatic serve over Cambodia

February 28th, 2014 Comments off

It is hard to get present day Labor politicians to lift their interest in matters of foreign policy past comments about the damage that asylum seeker policy is doing to relations with Indonesia. Even the remarkable flirtation Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had with her Cambodian counterpart over his country taking some of the Australia bound regimes could not stir an interest.

So enter Gareth Evans, Foreign Minister under Hawke and Keating, to remind us that the Labor Party once had principles. “Cambodia’s government has been getting away with murder,” wrote Evans ,who is now Chancellor of the Australian National University, in an article published in today’s Phnom Penh Post and available on the Project Syndicate website. “For far too long, Hun Sen and his colleagues have been getting away with violence, human-rights abuses, corruption, and media and electoral manipulation without serious internal or external challenge.”

And the man who played a major role in the Cambodian peace process devoted a paragraph or three to Julie Bishop:

But the tone of too many of these statements has been muted. Australia’s statements have been typical – falling over backward to avoid giving offense, and too anxious to balance criticism with praise. Officials are “concerned” about “recent disproportionate violence against protesters” but “welcome the Government’s stated commitment to undertake electoral reforms.”

Australia’s new foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has talked, as foreign ministers often do, of the need to avoid unproductive “megaphone diplomacy” and to “engage, not enrage” her counterparts. But, it seems that no robust critique was delivered when she met privately with Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on February 22 – even though Australia’s high standing in Cambodia (not least owing to its historical role in the peace process) means that its voice certainly would have been listened to.

There is a place for quiet diplomacy that relies on genuine engagement to encourage significant behavioral change. But when states behave badly enough for long enough, loud megaphones can also be in order.

I know Hun Sen and worked well with him in the past. I have resisted strong public criticism until now, because I thought there was hope for both him and his government. But their behavior has now moved beyond the civilized pale. It is time for Cambodia’s political leaders to be named, shamed, investigated, and sanctioned by the international community.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Relations between Australia and the Indonesian military have never been better?

February 27th, 2014 Comments off

The Jakarta Post this morning publishes an interesting theory on Australian-Indonesian relations – relations might be tense between Jakarta and Canberra, but between Canberra and the Indonesian Military (TNI), things have never been better.

The commentary, written from Perth by Lauren Gumbs, described as a writer who holds a Masters in communications from Griffith University in Queensland a Masters in human rights student at Curtin University, appears on the paper’s main op-ed page under the headling “Australian government bypasses Jakarta, builds ties with military”.

Indonesian officials are in disbelief that special life rafts carrying undocumented migrants were given by Australian authorities for the purpose of sending back migrants but concede that there might be a special agreement between Australian and Indonesian defense force chiefs.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa remains steadfast in opposing the coalition’s boat U-turns despite six reported incidents where boat people have been pushed back or even sent back on new lifeboats purchased solely for that task.

And President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, deeply concerned about impositions on sovereignty as well as public ire, is still smarting after the phone-tapping furor and recent accidental maritime incursions.

The TNI however, previously told to beef up maritime border protection and point its radar Australia’s way, has been largely silent on rhetoric about threats to Indonesia’s sovereignty from Australia and somehow missed two giant orange life rafts being chaperoned around the sea for several days before finally being nudged back toward Indonesia.

The article speculates on the role of TNI commander Gen. Moeldoko in dealing with Australia’s policy of returning boat people.

27-02-2014 bypassThe article concludes:

Indonesian lawmakers are angry at this latest Australian “provocation”, however Singaporean fighter planes crossed into Indonesian airspace this week, demonstrating that threats to Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty can come from other directions, and extenuating the way that the TNI has reasserted itself into the political debate.

With such sovereign and domestic threats featuring on the horizon, and the endless corruption scandals biting chunks out of democratic legitimacy, some fear that Indonesian voters may turn towards the strong leadership offered by presidential candidates with a military background. Indeed, Prabowo Subianto, a former general, is second in line to the throne after Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (so far an unofficial candidate).

The presence of conservatively nationalist military actors in the political sphere signals retrograde forces at play in Indonesia’s still vulnerable democratization.

In Indonesia politics can be a largely patrimonial game, so if Australia enjoys special cooperation on a controversial humanitarian issue now it may one day have to return the favor.

Categories: International politics Tags:

A right for businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians

February 26th, 2014 Comments off

It is front page news in Arizona but a bill passed by the state’s legislature that would allow business owners in the state to deny service to gays and lesbians is arousing controversy throughout the United States. Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer is being pressured to veto the bill under which to deny service, the business owner has to have sincerely held religious beliefs.



National Public Radio reports that the legislation’s wording has become so controversial that even some lawmakers who voted for it are now regretting it.

Jay Michaelson, who studies religious freedom for the progressive Political Research Associates told NPR a number of other states considered and rejected laws similar to Arizona’s. The Arizona law would allow business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians if the owner’s religion says homosexuality is wrong. But Jay Michaelson says the bill could affect virtually anyone who deals with a business owner claiming religious protection.

MICHAELSON: And, in fact, this law was so broad that it could cover anybody. So if I’m a fundamentalist Christian who holds Jews responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, I could put a sign saying no Jews allowed in my hotel or my restaurant or my sports stadium for that matter.

Doug Napier of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is trying to get similar bills passed across the country, sees things quite differently.

DOUG NAPIER: This is a human dignity bill. It’s a human rights bill. It’s an anti-discrimination bill, so people of faith have a safe place in Arizona. That’s all it is.

The inspiration for the Arizona bill was a court decision in neighboring New Mexico last year. That state’s Supreme Court ruled that an Albuquerque photographer could not refuse to take pictures of a gay couple. The Arizona law was intended to protect business owners from similar lawsuits but what may have begun as a religious rights issue has quickly become a civil rights issue. Both U.S. senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have come out against the new bill. “This is going to hurt the state of Arizona’s economy and frankly our image,” Sen. McCain told CNN.

A Phnom Penh view on Australia sending refugees to Cambodia

February 24th, 2014 Comments off

No wonder Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is keeping publicly silent on her suggestion to Cambodia when visiting at the weekend that it help out by taking some of our surplus refugees. Despite what the Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at a press briefing on Saturday – that it was a proposal that the government was taking “very seriously” – politicians in his country are opposed to the idea.

The Phnom Penh Post reports today that the  Cambodian government clarified yesterday that it is not keen on taking in refugees fleeing political persecution who might seek to use the Kingdom as a “springboard” for political activities, raising questions about what protection Cambodia would actually offer to those that Australia wishes to send.

“[Australia] wants to hand over its moral responsibility to Cambodia, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua said yesterday.

“Australia has to settle its own moral responsibility as a nation that we consider a democracy that respects human rights, [and] as a nation that is well developed and has in the past been very generous with refugees [including from Cambodia].” …

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that Cambodia wished to help Australia “as a friend of humanity” but would, however, require assistance from the international community to help successfully resettle refugees.

“We don’t want the world to see Cambodia as a springboard for political refugees. We support and try to preserve our neutrality,” he said.

But Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said this position was one reason why Cambodia had a “horrible” refugee rights record.

“We don’t have the financial capacity but we also don’t have the political will [for] refugees who need protection, especially when most refugees are of a political nature,” he said.

Categories: International politics Tags:

The mysterious spy book eraser

February 21st, 2014 Comments off

Writing The Snowden Files: ‘The paragraph began to self-delete’ – Was it the NSA? GCHQ? A Russian hacker? Who was secretly reading his book on Snowden while he wrote it, wonders Luke Harding in The Guardian

A fascinating insight into the strange world of spies this morning. Luke Harding, author of the recently published book The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man, writes of the day the paragraph he was writing started to self delete.


Worth reading the full piece but here’s the flavour:

“By September the book was going well – 30,000 words done. A Christmas deadline loomed. I was writing a chapter on the NSA’s close, and largely hidden, relationship with Silicon Valley. I wrote that Snowden’s revelations had damaged US tech companies and their bottom line. Something odd happened. The paragraph I had just written began to self-delete. The cursor moved rapidly from the left, gobbling text. I watched my words vanish. When I tried to close my OpenOffice file the keyboard began flashing and bleeping.

“Over the next few weeks these incidents of remote deletion happened several times. There was no fixed pattern but it tended to occur when I wrote disparagingly of the NSA. All authors expect criticism. But criticismbefore publication by an anonymous, divine third party is something novel. I began to leave notes for my secret reader. I tried to be polite, but irritation crept in. Once I wrote: “Good morning. I don’t mind you reading my manuscript – you’re doing so already – but I’d be grateful if you don’t delete it. Thank you.” There was no reply.”

Jakarta Post splashes attack on Australian spying

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

18-02-2014 jakartapostFrom this morning’s paper:

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa slammed Australia over another surveillance revelation on Indonesia, conducted this time in cooperation with the United States government, calling it “excessive”.

Marty blasted the Australian government for going too far in a joint spying operation on Indonesia during a trade dispute with the US and offering to share back room information with the US, as revealed by the International New York Times on Sunday.

In the Times piece, based on a top-secret 2013 document provided by former US National Security Agency (NSA) system analyst Edward Snowden, the Australian Signals Directorate assisted the surveillance of trade disputes between the US and Indonesia over exports of clove cigarettes and shrimp in recent years.

Marty said that he was not sure how snooping on a trade spat could relate to security.

“I have come across statements that Australia collects intelligence to save Australian lives, the lives of other people and to promote Australian values,” Marty said.

“Those are well understood as a general outlook, but I must say I find it mind-boggling: How can I reconcile discussions about shrimp and the impact on Australian security.”

… “Neighbors like Indonesia and Australia should be looking out for each other, not turning against each other,” Marty said.

“We should be listening to one another — not listening in on one another. And I think that it is very important to find the distinction between the two,” he said.

Book banning – freedom of speech in India

February 16th, 2014 Comments off

Author Of Book Yanked In India Says Move Has Backfired : The Two-Way : NPR.

The book in question is Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. The Shiksha Bachao Aandolan [Save Education Movement], a small Hindu group, claimed in its lawsuit that the book’s focus was sexual and “denigrated Hindus and show[s] their religion in poor light.” …

In a statement, Doniger said she did not blame Penguin Books, India, for yanking her book. She said the publisher had defended it in courts for four years. She added:

“They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”

The author also told NPR’s Robert Siegel on Friday that while she thinks the law should be changed, she is gratified by the reaction to the withdrawal of the book.”If the purpose of these gentlemen was to keep people from buying my book and reading it, it has backfired quite wonderfully,” she told Robert.

“The book is much more popular than it ever would have been before. … Copies are circulating in India and Kindle is available in India.”There’s just all sorts of ways that one can get a book. It’s not like the bad, old days when you had to smuggle a copy of Ulysses from Paris. One can read this book in all sorts of ways.”
Categories: International politics, Media Tags:

Sound familiar? Chrysler asks governments for $700 million

February 12th, 2014 Comments off

Canada is having troubles keeping its car industry too. Chrysler has asked the federal and Ontario governments to come up with $700 million to keep its plants operating.

The Globe and Mail reports:

12-02-2014 canafamotors

Canada ending immigrant investor program

February 11th, 2014 Comments off

Canada’s Conservative government is scrapping the country’s 28-year-old immigrant investor program in its budget to be introduced this week. The Globe and Post reports that the decision ends a path to citizenship that has been criticized for allowing foreigners to buy their way into the country without generating sufficient long-term benefit.

11-02-2014 investmentmigrationAustralia continues to have a similar program.


Categories: International politics Tags:

Back on Jakarta’s front page – a calm report on the return of boat people

February 8th, 2014 Comments off

Australia’s policy of turning back the boats has returned to page one coverage in The Jakarta Post.

8-02-2014 jakpost

The report is free of emotive language language.

The Indonesian Police revealed on Friday that the Australian Navy had turned back 34 undocumented migrants when their boat reached Australian waters near Christmas Island.

On the same day in Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed his government’s harsh policy against unwanted asylum seekers had drastically reduced the arrival of boat people to Australia.

Pangandaran Water Police Unit chief Adj. Comr. Firman Alamsyah said undocumented migrants found stranded in a lifeboat at Pangandaran Beach in West Java told police they had been driven away from Australian waters.

“This was their [the migrants] story,” he confirmed.

Firman said 21 undocumented migrants were from Iran (three of them below 5 years old), five from Bangladesh, six from Nepal and two others from Pakistan.

They arrived in Christmas Island waters on Jan. 28 by a wooden boat, which was immediately intercepted by the Australian authorities. On the evening of Feb. 5, they were found stranded on Pangandaran Beach.

During the voyage back to Indonesia, the lifeboat was escorted to open sea by an Australian vessel, an aircraft and a high speed inflatable boat. The lifeboat then headed to Cilacap, Central Java and was eventually seized by the police.

From a sign inside the vessel, the fiberglass lifeboat carried registration number “JYB85F”. The lifeboat, with a capacity of around 30 people, was equipped with seats and safety belts. It is currently tied to a police patrol boat and is anchored.

The orange vessel is 8.5 meters long, 3.2 meters wide and 1.1 meters tall, with its top part covered, a small propeller at the back and a side door for entry. Instructions written in Mandarin and English were found inside the cabin, while the words “Lifeboat”, “Battery charger” and “Made in China” could be seen near the steering compartment.

Such a lifeboat is usually standard on large freighters and tankers. In an earlier discovery of a lifeboat in Sukabumi, West Java, the vessel was powered by a diesel motor and could travel at a speed of 3 knots per hour.

On Jan. 16, a similar lifeboat was also found on Palabuhan Ratu beach, West Java, without any passengers onboard.

The Associated Press quoted Abbott as saying that no asylum seekers had reached Australia by boat in 50 days, the longest period since 2008, describing the measures to turn them back as tough but effective.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) reported that the Australian navy had sent 34 asylum seekers back to Java on Wednesday night in a lifeboat.

The report contains no new quotes from senior Indonesian officials but simply reports comments made earlier.

Indonesian government officials oppose Australia’s policies introduced after the Abbott government was elected last September and see them as violating of Indonesian sovereignty.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has spoken of the policy in negative terms. “This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful,” he told the ABC.

In a turning back the boats story from the other side of the world, the Greek paper Kathimerini reports this morning that the bodies of four more of the 12 migrants who drowned off Farmakonisi last month were recovered yesterday as a navy oceanographic research vessel helped coast guard divers locate the fishing boat in which the migrants had attempted to reach Greece. Sixteen people were rescued from the boat on January 19 but some survivors alleged that a Greek coast guard patrol vessel attempted to tow the migrants boat back to Turkish waters, causing it to sink. Greek officials deny this and a judicial probe has been ordered.

Obama declares marijuana is not ‘more dangerous than alcohol’

January 20th, 2014 Comments off

Slowly the tide may be turning against the silly “just say no” policy so popular with politicians when talking about drugs. US President Barack in an interview with David Remnick recently posted on the website of The New Yorker declares about marijuana: “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

What the President said:

“When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion—the legalization of marijuana—he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. ‘As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.’

“Is it less dangerous? I asked.

“Obama leaned back and let a moment go by. That’s one of his moves. When he is interviewed, particularly for print, he has the habit of slowing himself down, and the result is a spool of cautious lucidity. He speaks in paragraphs and with moments of revision. Sometimes he will stop in the middle of a sentence and say, ‘Scratch that,’ or, ‘I think the grammar was all screwed up in that sentence, so let me start again.’

“Less dangerous, he said, ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.’ What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. ‘Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,’ he said. ‘And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.’ But, he said, ‘we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.’ Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that ‘it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.'”

Indonesian President attacks Australian media for reports about his wife

January 19th, 2014 Comments off

A further snippet from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono’s book as published in the Sunday Jakarta Post:


Categories: International politics, Media Tags:

Indonesian President expresses disappointment in Tony Abbott

January 18th, 2014 Comments off

Australia dominates the Jakarta Post front page again this morning. Along with a report on the Australian apology for breaching Indonesian territorial waters there are extracts from a just published book by President  Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In the book President Yudhoyono has expressed disappointment at the way Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott handled tensions between the two nations after revelations emerged of Australia’s suspected wiretapping of the President and his wife in 2009.

18-01-2014 jakarta

SBY resents Abbott in his new, controversial book

In the book, titled Selalu Ada Pilihan (There is Always a Choice), Yudhoyono said he initially refrained from following a harsh policy that could have affected relations between the countries after the eavesdropping revelations.

18-01-2014 presidentsbook

However, Yudhoyono said the final straw came when he learned that Abbott viewed the incident as normal.

“When my best friend Tony Abbott made several statements before the Australian parliament suggesting the case was normal and refused to apologize, I could no longer stay silent,” said Yudhoyono in his book, which was launched on Friday.

He also said that as a strategic partner, he could not accept the rationale behind the incident, which violated Indonesian, Australian and international law.

“Also important is that the incident related to the moral and ethical side of being a good neighbor,” the President went on.

Yudhoyono said he deeply regretted the incident amid all-time high relations between the two countries.

Due to Abbott’s handling of the matter, Yudhoyono finally decided to suspend cooperation in the areas of military and defense, joint patrols on boat people, as well as intelligence and information sharing with Australia, resulting in ties between the two nations plunging to their lowest level.

Yudhoyono also said in the book that Australia should have honestly briefed Indonesia over the wiretapping incident two months before it was revealed in November.

“When I read the news of the wiretapping involving the US and Australia, I instructed Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to seek clarification from Australia,” he said.

“But their reply was between ‘yes’ and ‘no’,” he said.

Yudhoyono said he had not received sufficient explanation from Australia since the incident occurred.

The row with Australia is dealt with in a chapter entitled “A leader has to be firm, but remain rational”.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Indonesian corruption at heart of people smuggling – News and views for Friday 10 January

January 10th, 2014 Comments off

There’s some good news for Australia this morning on the people smuggling front. The Indonesian government has deported some would-be travellers to Australia and that country’s major English language paper has acknowledged that corruption of Indonesian officials is at the heart of the boat people problem.

First the deportations as reported by Kompas (and translated courtesy of Google):

10-01-2014 deportations

Three foreign nationals were deported from Nepal through Sentani Airport, Jayapura, Papua, on Thursday (09/01/2014). They originally wanted to Australia through Papua. “After coordination (with the Embassy of Nepal), we then take administrative action, namely deportation to the country of origin, and put in the banned list,” said Soenaryono, Head of Immigration Office Class 1 Jayapura, Thursday. Nepalese are three Prashain Prabhakar, Kamal Kumar Khadka, Thapa and Rabindra Chhetri. Soenaryono said three people were arrested when Nepal will extend permission to stay in Indonesia. moment that they claimed to have sought work in Australia. According Soenaryono, three men entered Indonesia via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then fly to Bali.Next they headed Lombok, and enter through the Merauke Papua and ends in Jayapura. Nepal One of these resident, said Soenaryono, admitted that he had often come to Indonesia. He was married to Indonesian workers from Blitar, East Java, who met in Hong Kong. One of Nepal’s citizens are often admitted to Blitar to visit his son. third was flown to the Nepalese Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Tangerang, Banten, on Thursday, and then sent back to Nepal via Kuala Lumpur on Friday (10/01/2014) night. Soenaryono said, during 2013, the institution has detained nine foreign nationals are problematic. “(Of that amount), 8 people have been deported while 1 again, a citizen of Nigeria, was still in immigration detention awaiting deportation after serving his sentence in prison Abepura,” he said.

And the Jakarta Post editorial on Indonesian-Australian relations:

10-01-2014 editorial

Taken together this pair of items present quite a different picture to that presented by the Melbourne Age this morning which on page one has taken the egg-beater to the relationship:

10-01-2014 agepageone

The story contained this version of the views of the Indonesian military chief:

It has also been reported on Friday that General Moeldoko claims his words have been ”twisted” on the boat turn backs issue.

The Indonesian military chief is arguing that after talking to General Hurley, he merely understands the tactical steps around Australia’s turn back policy. This does not mean he approves of it, as has been reported earlier this week, he says. This comes amid reports that as many as five asylum seeker boats have been towed or turned back to Indonesia over the past month.

And here’s the slightly fuller version of the general’s remarks as reported by the Jakarta Post on pzge two this morninga

10-01-2014 militaryman'sstatement

You can judge for yourself.

 Some links to other things I’ve found interesting today.

Indonesian military leader supports Australian boat policy

January 8th, 2014 Comments off

From the Jakarta Post this morning:

8-01-2014 jakartapost

Categories: International politics Tags:

Indonesia’s election uncertainty – LPG prices and polygamy

January 6th, 2014 Comments off

Getting ready for a new form of Indonesian government. The omens seem to be pointing to a rather different form of government in Indonesia after this year’s elections with considerable uncertainty about who will replace Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president. President Yudhoyono, having served two terms, cannot stand again and his Democratic Party is yet to choose a candidate.  The Jakarta Post in a page one story this morning noted that the popularity of the Democratic Party had plummeted over the past years due to various graft cases involving its top members and suggested there was now more than a little campaign panic:


Not that the current governing party is the only one with its problems. Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) chairman Anis Matta’s decision to go public with his polygamous life does not seem to bode well for the Islamic party’s future in the upcoming election, reports the Post

A recent series of messages on Twitter posted by PKS deputy secretary-general Fahri Hamzah on Anis’ polygamous life with his second wife Szilvia Fabula has instead further tarnished the party’s image following the beef import graft case that implicated Anis’ predecessor, Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq…

Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) political analyst Syamsuddin Haris said Anis’ move had a negative impact on the PKS.

“Even though sharia law recognizes polygamy, it’s not something that can be accepted by many Muslims in the country because they tend to choose monogamous marriage. It will surely reduce the party’s chances of gathering more votes in the election,” Syamsuddin said.

He added this blunder would see those who wanted to vote for an Islamic party shift their support to the United Development Party (PPP), the National Mandate Party (PAN) or the National Awakening Party (PKB).

A survey released last year by the Indonesia Research Center (IRC) put the PKS in seventh position on a list of the most electable political parties. The survey found that the PKS would only receive 2.8 percent of the vote if the legislative election was held at that time, far lower than the 7.99 percent it secured in the 2009 election, making it the fourth largest faction in the House of Representatives.

Moreover, activist Defarina Djohan said polygamy was a barbaric tradition as it occurred before Islam came to the world.

“Arabic men used to marry hundreds of women at that time and then Islam came and reduced that practice by limiting the number to only four wives. The essence here is not only about the figure, but also fairness, because Islam emphasizes justice,” Defarina said.

She also said women were smarter today and they would not support those who practiced polygamy.

“Women comprise 49 percent of total voters, which is a significant portion. In addition to that, not all men support polygamy,” she continued.

Categories: Elections, International politics Tags:

A quote for the day from Nelson Mandela

December 6th, 2013 Comments off

“What has become of our rationality, our ability to think? We have used our reason to make great advances in science and technology, though often using those for warfare and plunder. We have placed people on the moon and in space; we have split the atom and transplanted organs; we are cloning life and manipulating nature. Yet we have failed to sit down as rational beings and eliminate conflict, war and consequent suffering of innocent millions, mostly women, children and the aged.” — Address on receiving the International Gandhi Peace Prize, March 2001.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Hardly a crisis headline – Jakarta Post reports on Indonesian reaction

November 27th, 2013 Comments off



So far so good it seems for Tony Abbott’s attempt to put an end to the wrangling with Indonesia over past Australian spying.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Mark Textor’s perfect partner?

November 24th, 2013 Comments off


It is turning into a very news making week for the Crosby Textor partners. In Australia Mark Textor has had his Twittering controversy. And now in Britain Lynton Crosby is starring in what the Labour leader calls the Crosbyisation of a Conservative Party that is turning to fear and smear.

From the front page of this morning’s Sunday Independent:



With this from the Ed Miliband column inside:



Australia-Indonesia relations gone from the Jakarta front page

November 24th, 2013 Comments off

The diplomatic tiff between Australia and Indonesia has disappeared from the front page of the Jakarta Post this morning. The subject does make the editorial page at some length but even there the message is mellowing.


Categories: International politics Tags:

Australia-Indonesia: hard to be bosom buddies but civility possible

November 23rd, 2013 Comments off

It is difficult to imagine that Australia and Indonesia will ever be bosom buddies. The cultures of the two countries are too different for that. But so what? Geography dictates for both counties that civility is preferable to confrontation whatever the differences.

Since Australia was one of the early supporters of Indonesian independence from Dutch colonial rule more than 60 years ago, examples of the differences have caused tensions. Australian support for the geographic absurdity of former British and Portuguese possessions in Borneo and Timor being granted independence separate from their adjoining Indonesian islands undid the friendship. Continued acceptance by Australia of Indonesian possession of West Papua helped redress the balance in diplomatic relations.

The ups-and-downs certainly have continued. Such things as the Bali bombings and animal cruelty on one side and criticism of not stopping boat people and bugging phone calls on the other have seen to that.

But when you examine the current statements by Australian and Indonesian leaders, the differences that some of the media in both countries are describing as “a crisis” do not amount to much. When compared with those accompanying those previous differences they are mild.


Categories: International politics Tags:

A reason for Indonesian anger Tony Abbott will understand – winning an election

November 23rd, 2013 Comments off

An Australian politician who has just won an election by talking tough about Indonesia will have no trouble grasping the significance of this morning’s story:2013-11-23_spyrowboon


And the story inside on page three does not read as seriously as the headline might suggest:





Categories: International politics Tags:

Communist top tipple heads down market

November 22nd, 2013 Comments off

The Chinese Communist party’s favourite drink, ultra-luxury baijiu, is heading downmarket to supermarket shelves and restaurants as a result of Beijing’s ban on top-end white spirits. The ban is part of the government’s anti-corruption campaign, which is hitting sales of luxury goods from watches to mooncakes.

via Communist top tipple heads down market –

Categories: Drinking, International politics Tags:

This morning’s Jakarta Post headlines featuring Australia

November 22nd, 2013 Comments off

A wide range of stories this morning beginning with this one as the page one splash:

2013-11-22_fridayjakartapostAnd it’s former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans who is given the star billing:

2013-11-22_evans on apology


Inside the tone was really quite conciliatory including running an editorial from The Australian as its second leader.



Categories: International politics Tags:

Jakarta Post reports Indonesia to stop co-operating on combating people smuggling

November 20th, 2013 Comments off

This morning’s edition of the Jakarta Post:


The page one story reads:

As the diplomatic spat intensifies, Indonesia warned Australia on Tuesday that it would relax preventive measures against boat people using the archipelago as a stepping stone for their onward journeys to Australia.

Following a request from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for a review of areas of bilateral cooperation on Tuesday, the National Police and the Law and Human Rights Ministry, which oversees the Immigration Agency, have prepared to halt collaboration on combating people smuggling.

National Police chief Gen. Sutarman said he would soon report a list detailing areas of police cooperation with Australia for the President to review.

“We will wait for the President’s response on how the police should handle any cessation of cooperation,” Sutarman said, adding that topping the list would be preventive measures against asylum seekers heading toward Australia.

The boat people issue is politically sensitive in Australia, and newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised voters he would reduce the number of boat people reaching Australian territory by forging closer relations with Indonesia.

Those relations quickly soured on Monday following reports that the Defence Signals Directorate (now the Australian Signals Directorate) allegedly wiretapped the phones of Yudhoyono, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and several ministers in 2009.

Yudhoyono said that the US and Australian wiretapping had “certainly damaged strategic partnerships with Indonesia”.

“I also regret the statement by the Australian prime minister that without remorse belittled this matter of wiretapping Indonesia,” said Yudhoyono in his Twitter account.

Politicians have also urged Yudhoyono to retaliate for the eavesdropping by no longer attempting to prevent boat people, most of whom come from the Middle East, from making the crossing to Australia.

“We are in a better position than Australia. This issue [boat people] could be utilized as a bargaining chip in demanding an apology from Prime Minister Abbott,” said a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission I on defense, foreign affairs and information, Susaningtyas Handayani Kertopati.

The spokesman for the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Marolan J. Barimbing, said that while Yudhoyono had not yet issued an instruction to terminate or scale down the ministry’s efforts to stem the flow of boat people, it was taking preparatory measures.

“We are anticipating such an instruction by reviewing our areas of cooperation, particularly those related to immigration. Our priority is our national interests. We’re working based on regulations set up to protect the country from undocumented migrants, not to serve another country’s interests,” he said.

Over the last five years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has seen the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia seeking UNHCR assistance increase 18-fold.

Authorities conduct activities related to preventing migrants from crossing into Australian territory on a near daily basis.

The police arrested three Indonesian Navy personnel on Sunday for allegedly aiding 106 migrants from Myanmar who were attempting to pass through Indonesian territory en route to Australia.

The arrests were made after police stopped a tourist bus and a minibus on the road. The 106 migrants were on their way to a boat that would take them straight to Australia from the southern coast of Garut regency, West Java.

Despite Indonesia’s myriad domestic problems, it has been increasingly burdened with keeping Australia’s backyard clear of unwanted migrants from impoverished or restive countries.

During Abbott’s visit to Indonesia from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, he and Yudhoyono committed to further strengthen Australian and Indonesian leadership in regional efforts to combat people smuggling and human trafficking.

Australia is among Indonesia’s largest sources of foreign aid as it provided A$646.8 million (US$608.7 million) in financial assistance between 2012 and 2013, up by 20 percent compared to the previous year.

Military (TNI) spokesman Rear Adm. Iskandar Sitompul said that the TNI was awaiting instruction from the Defense Ministry regarding the future of TNI cooperation with Australia, including on the joint sea patrol on the territorial border.

“The joint patrol is aimed at catching migrants and handling other territorial issues,” he said.

The Defense Ministry’s director for international cooperation, Brig. Gen. Jan Pieter, said the ministry was still waiting for the President’s instruction on any plan to freeze defense partnerships.

“Until now, security with Australia remain in good shape,” he said.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Drug prices and the Trans Pacific Partnership concern Americans too

November 19th, 2013 Comments off

It is not just in Australia that there is growing concern that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations are largely secret. In the United States there are fears that a TPP trade agreement that the United States and 11 other Pacific-rim countries are negotiating could raise the cost of prescription drugs and increase health-care spending by governments and private payers.

A post this week on the blog of the non-profit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that despite the secrecy, some negotiating texts have become public — and the newly leaked intellectual property chapter reveals sharp disagreements over access to generic medicines.

The United States has advanced provisions to protect manufacturers of brand-name drugs. They reflect the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to boost profits by extending market exclusivity on their brand-name drugs beyond the normal protections offered by the patent system.  In contrast, New Zealand and other countries would encourage the introduction of generics.

A U.S.-proposed draft of part of the transparency chapter would restrict governments’ ability to limit the prices they pay for drugs and medical devices.  This provision appears aimed at other countries, but it may hit existing or proposed U.S. policies as well.

AARP, AFSCME, and a dozen other health-policy organizations wrote to the Obama Administration last week expressing “deep concern” that the TPP may limit “the ability of states and the federal government to moderate escalating prescription drug, biologic drug and medical device costs in public programs.”  They listed many provisions that the TPP might jeopardize, including drug discounts that help close the “donut hole” in the Medicare Part D drug benefit, the Administration’s proposal to require minimum drug rebates for low-income beneficiaries under Part D, reduced drug prices for safety-net providers under section 340B of the Public Health Service Act, the Administration’s proposal to reduce the market exclusivity period for brand-name biologic drugs, and potentially, rebates under Medicaid.

The CBPP posting concluded that these concerns about the TPP merited a thorough review. U.S. trade negotiators should not uncritically accept industry arguments for higher drug prices.  The pursuit of expanded trade, it argued, “must not undercut efforts to slow the growth of health care costs.”


Categories: International politics Tags:

Indonesia’s fake surprise at phone bugging

November 19th, 2013 Comments off

If proof was needed that the Indonesian government was not at all surprised that Australian intelligence agencies tried to tap the phones of important people then Bambang Wiyono has provided it. Mr Wiyono, the deputy for communications and information at his country’s National Intelligence agency, said yesterday it would be impossible for any party to listen in to the telephone conversations of the President and the first lady.

The Jakarta Post this morning reports him saying:


Why, then, the show of indignation by the Indonesian government? Hopefully nothing more than the normal reaction of politicians anywhere when their voting public learns of something that they had kept hidden.

Categories: International politics Tags:

Europe’s far right: This monster called Europe

November 15th, 2013 Comments off

Europe’s far right: This monster called Europe | The Economist.

Mr Wilders and Ms Le Pen did not have much to say about how their faction meant to roll back the tide. But it is hard to ignore the fact that these two far-right parties are leading the polls in their respective countries. Given popular anger over Europe’s stagnant economies and a sense of alienation from Brussels, the new alliance between the Party for Freedom and the FN could yet set the tone for next spring’s European Parliament elections.

Categories: International politics Tags:

The ethics of banking – hire a Chinese leader’s daughter

November 15th, 2013 Comments off

Disclosures about the wonderful ways of bankers just keep on coming. This time the investigation is into a little matter of bribery and corruption.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, N.Y., are looking into $1.8 million that JPMorgan Chase paid to a two-person firm in China where one of the twosome was the daughter of China’s then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Not that the relationship with a relative was obvious. The consulting contract used the pseudonym Lily Chang rather than the daughter’s actual name of  Wen Ruchun.

The New York Times reports that United States authorities are scrutinizing JPMorgan’s ties to Ms. Wen, whose alias was government approved, as part of a wider bribery investigation into whether the bank swapped contracts and jobs for business deals with state-owned Chinese companies, according to the documents and interviews. The bank, which is cooperating with the inquiries and conducting its own internal review, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The story makes for fascinating reading and follows on nicely from Times reports last year that Wen Jibao’s family had amassed $2.7 billion in assets.


Beheaded – a variation on killed by friendly fire

November 15th, 2013 Comments off


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Boat people – a view from the Jakarta Post

November 15th, 2013 Comments off

An interesting Indonesian perspective in this morning’s Jakarta Post on the impact of the dispute over handling boat people and the relations between Indonesia and Australia. The paper’s columnist Endy Bayuni writes:





Categories: International politics Tags:

Afghanistan’s opium production reaches a record high

November 13th, 2013 Comments off

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, had an interesting choice of word to describe opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rising 36 per cent in 2013 to a record high. “Sobering” he called it which it certainly won’t be when the end product reaches markets around the world. What cannot be quibbled with is Mr Fedotov’s description of the situation as posing a threat to health, stability and development in Afghanistan and beyond.


The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 released today in Kabul showed the area under cultivation rose to 209,000 ha from the previous year’s total of 154,000 ha, higher than the peak of 193,000 hectares reached in 2007.


Although lower than in 2012, opium prices continued to lure farmers at around $145 per kg, much higher than the prices fetched during the high yield years of 2006-2008.  Farmers may have driven up cultivation by trying to shore up their assets as insurance against an uncertain future resulting from the withdrawal of international troops next year. Worth around US$ 950 million, or 4 per cent of national GDP in 2013, the farm-gate value of opium production increased by almost a third. Together with profits made by drug traffickers, the total value of the opium economy within Afghanistan was significantly higher, implying that the illicit economy will continue to grow whereas a slowdown of the legal economy is predicted in 2014.

“As we approach 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces from the country, the results of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 should be taken for what they are – a warning, and an urgent call to action,” said the UNODC chief.

The link between insecurity and opium cultivation observed in the country since 2007 was still evident in 2013; almost 90 per cent of opium poppy cultivation in 2013 remained confined to nine provinces in the southern and western regions, which include the most insurgency-ridden provinces in the country. Hilmand, Afghanistan’s principal poppy-producer since 2004 and responsible for nearly half of all cultivation, expanded the area under cultivation by 34 per cent, followed by Kandahar, which saw a 16 per cent rise.


Categories: International politics Tags:

Egyptian rules – four fingers and you’re out

November 13th, 2013 Comments off

The 28 year old star forward Ahmed Abdel-Zaher scored for his Egyptian team Al-Ahly in the African Champions League final second leg in Cairo on Sunday, gave a celebratory signal and got himself suspended without pay,

2013-11-13_givingthefingersThe reason was showing the four fingers – the so-called Rabaa salute associated with ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

Al-Ahly said the striker would be left out of next month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco. He’ll also be investigated by the Egyptian Football Association.



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Tensions rise as Abbott and senior Indonesian official to meet

November 13th, 2013 Comments off



Prime Minister Tony Abbott is scheduled to meet with a senior Indonesian official in Canberra today as the dispute over accepting boat people rescued at sea steps up a notch.

The Jakarta Post  reported this morning:

2013-11-13_meetingThe paper’s report said that neither Indonesia’s Co-ordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Sujanto nor Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison claimed to be aware of the “people swap” deal.

The Melbourne Age in a front page report quotes Ms Anwar as  not backing down on her claim despite denials by Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Abbott. Ms Anwar said the proposal had come from the Australian embassy in Jakarta via a fax written in Bahasa.

2013-11-13_swapIt all makes for an interesting meeting.


Regulators’ £500m fines fail to change corporate behaviour –

November 12th, 2013 Comments off

Dealing with the ticket clippers is a difficult task. Fines don’t seem to make any difference to behaviour as this Financial Times of London story makes clear.

Regulators’ £500m fines fail to change corporate behaviour –

Perhaps it will take criminal jail sentences of senior executives to really make a diffrence,

China expected to cut growth target to 7% –

November 12th, 2013 Comments off

China will cut its growth target to 7 per cent next year in a sign of the government’s determination to push through structural reforms and steer the economy on to a more sustainable path, one of the country’s top investment banks has predicted.

via China expected to cut growth target to 7% –

A politician telling it like it really is

November 10th, 2013 Comments off

A rare frank admission of what motivates a politician – Ghana’s president has fired a deputy minister reportedly caught on tape saying she’ll stay in politics until she makes $1 million.

Ghana Web reports:

There’s a leaked tape on which a voice purported to be that of Victoria Hammah is heard telling a female interlocutor that she will not quit politics until she makes at least US$1m.
The two ladies, who appeared to be traveling while having the gossipy conversation, are also heard on the leaked secret audio tape harshly condemning the Deputy Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Rachel Appoh, for instigating bad press against her boss, Nana Oye Lithur.

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