The cost of resisting China’s Big Brother

CHINA: Clampdown on activists who expose surveillance through new technology

“WE HAVEN’T seen you before. Which media are you from?” a middle-aged woman asked a tall man operating a video camera outside a Beijing court.

“I’m from an independent newspaper,” the videographer replied with a slight smile on his face. The woman and her friend, who were queueing to take documents into the court, chuckled after hearing a statement that they all knew was false. “He’s police,” one of the women said a few minutes later.

The exchange outside the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court was a rare moment of levity in the normally serious, sometimes violent business of monitoring and controlling rights activists, dissidents, independent religious leaders, separatists and others deemed a threat to China’s state security.

Related article: China: Police State 2.0 is Ready for Export

The plain-clothes police officer was taking footage of petitioners, journalists, lawyers and supporters of dissident Hu Jia, who was sentenced that day in April to three and a half years in prison for subversion. “Surveillance is both overt and insidious,” said Phelim Kine, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. Overt surveillance in China is used “both to intimidate, and as a lesson to the neighbours”, Kine said.

Hu won the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought last month. He and fellow activist Gao Zhisheng were also nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Hu, 35, is the most prominent of a growing number of activists who have tried to reflect the intense glare of state surveillance back at those trying to monitor and control them.

The activists’ photographs, video, transcripts and diaries, usually distributed via the internet, have given outsiders rare glimpses into surveillance and abuses of power by China’s vast public security network. China tolerates some local activism but it confronts those who begin to operate at a national or international level. The relatively few national-level activists who have mastered the use of the internet and digital technology like Hu and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, are “desperately outnumbered” by the people watching them, Kine said.

“It tells you that those people like Hu Jia, who do master the technology and get the message out, are prey to retribution,” Kine. “What you see in China is that anyone who reaches a certain level of prominence, those people face serious consequences,” he said.

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Financial crisis: The banks just don’t get it – they’re lucky to be alive

“No, you can’t”. These are unfashionable words at the moment – and nowhere more so than in the banking industry.

While politicians were hoping for an outbreak of economic optimism after Thursday’s reduction in interest rates, our High Street bank managers were having none of it.

Nearly 24 hours after the Bank of England slashed the official price of money by a record-breaking 1.5 percentage points, only three of the 88 major lenders had said they would pass it on to their borrowers. In fact, only 30 of them had got around to sharing the proceeds of last month’s half-point rate cut. The fact they were much quicker to cut interest rates for many savers only served to rub in the message: No, you can’t have a cheaper mortgage. No, you can’t get a fairer rate on your savings. No, you can’t expect us to go without large profits and bonuses. Change is for wimps.

Well, let’s see about that. In scenes that would have been unthinkable only two months ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer summoned the industry’s leaders to Downing Street on Friday and promptly pistol-whipped them into submission. Treasury officials were said to have waved press cuttings in their faces, pointing out that the word “banker” had become a popular term of abuse – and not just in rhyming slang. Out they meekly trotted, finally ready to cut their standard variable rate on most mortgages by the same 1.5 percentage points suggested by the Bank of England.

Read moreFinancial crisis: The banks just don’t get it – they’re lucky to be alive

Banks are living in a fairyland of magic money

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL, RUNNING A MODEST business, if the money fairy came along and promised you would never, ever go bust? How much of a spring would it put in your step if the nice imp then said she had cast a spell guaranteeing all your lending, all your borrowing, and 98% of your customers’ cash? “Yes,” you might just say, clapping your sticky little hands, “I do believe in fairies!”

This hard-to-swallow tale has more than one happy ending. While your godmother hopes you will become a good little banker one day, she doesn’t want to be too stern. It’s not her place. So if she sprinkles some of her magic dust and shrinks the cost of money, she won’t force you to share your good luck with anyone. She’ll “urge” you instead. But only a very naughty banker would ignore that, surely?

After all, you owe the good fairy something. In fact, you owe her billions of things. They are the reasons why you are still able to frolic as a happy little banker. They also explain why you are still looking forward to big Christmas presents and the chance, some time very soon, to tell fairy godmother where to stick her advice and all those tiresome homilies on the need to be nice to poor folk.

Whatever Alistair Darling was waving at the bankers during a breakfast meeting on Friday morning, it was not a magic wand. He can urge to his heart’s content, but they intend to go on treating the Bank of England, its base rate and its monetary policy committee (MPC) as fictions only children would believe. Most may have buckled, belatedly, under an avalanche of bad publicity, but the chancellor doesn’t frighten them.

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Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes

£13m shed-size reactors will be delivered by lorry

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. ‘Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,’ said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. ‘They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.’

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U.S. Is Funding Iranian Nuclear Program

The U.S. is literally funding Iranian nuclear capabilities.

As CNN reports, the U.S. state department has given millions of dollars to two Russian institutes which, in turn, are directly helping to ramp up Iran’s nuke capacity at Bushehr and other facilities.

This is especially ironic given that the U.S. has accused Iran of producing fuel for nuclear weapons at Bushehr.

Here’s the CNN report:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Source: George Washington’s Blog

UK Monitors: Georgia fired first shot

Two former British military officers are expected to give crucial evidence against Georgia when an international inquiry is convened to establish who started the country’s bloody five-day war with Russia in August.

Ryan Grist, a former British Army captain, and Stephen Young, a former RAF wing commander, are said to have concluded that, before the Russian bombardment began, Georgian rockets and artillery were hitting civilian areas in the breakaway region of South Ossetia every 15 or 20 seconds.

Their accounts seem likely to undermine the American-backed claims of President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia that his little country was the innocent victim of Russian aggression and acted solely in self-defence.

During the war both Grist and Young were senior figures in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The organisation had deployed teams of unarmed monitors to try to reduce tension over South Ossetia, which had split from Georgia in a separatist struggle in the early 1990s with Russia’s support.

On the night war broke out, Grist was the senior OSCE official in Georgia. He was in charge of unarmed monitors who became trapped by the fighting. Based on their observations, Grist briefed European Union diplomats in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, with his assessment of the conflict.

Grist, who resigned from the OSCE shortly afterwards, has told The New York Times it was Georgia that launched the first military strikes against Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital.

“It was clear to me that the [Georgian] attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation,” he said. “The attack was clearly, in my mind, an indiscriminate attack on the town, as a town.”

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City of London recession to trigger £11bn tax revenue black hole

The financial crisis will result in tax revenues from City bonuses alone falling by as much as £4bn next year, according to one of Britain’s most influential economic forecasting firms.


Restrictions on bonuses at the banks which the Government is helping to rescue will also have the unintended consequence of lowering tax revenues Photo: MICHAEL WALTER

As investment banks, hedge funds and private equity firms – three of the principal drivers of the Square Mile’s explosive growth of recent years – cut tens of thousands of jobs, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) expects the Treasury to face an overall City-generated taxation “black hole” of more than £10bn.

The CEBR believes the Government will collect around £5bn less than previously-estimated in corporation tax, while tax generated by bonuses, National Insurance contributions and base salaries is likely to fall by around £6bn.

The bleak forecasts underline the many ways in which cutbacks in the City, which has become a crucial engine of national economic growth, will contribute to an expected recession in Britain.

Restrictions on bonuses at the banks which the Government is helping to rescue will also have the unintended consequence of lowering tax revenues from City firms.

The deficit means Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, may need to borrow up to £110bn in the next financial year to plug the hole in the national balance sheet – almost three times the estimate of the £38bn forecast in his Budget statement last March.

Read moreCity of London recession to trigger £11bn tax revenue black hole

Jobless ranks hit 10 million, most in 25 years; unemployment hits 14-year high


Sunny Yang, left, a masters degree student from Shanghai and employed banker in New York City, speaks with World Bank representative Roberto Amorosino about opportunities for unemployed friends of his during a career fair at Columbia Univeristy Friday, Nov. 7, 2008 in New York. The U.S. unemployment rate bolted to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October as another 240,000 jobs were cut, far worse than economists expected and stark proof the economy is deteriorating at an alarmingly rapid pace. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s jobless ranks zoomed past 10 million last month, the most in a quarter-century, as piles of pink slips shut factory gates and office doors to 240,000 more Americans with the holidays nearing. Politicians and economists agreed on a painful bottom line: It’s only going to get worse.

The unemployment rate soared to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent, the government said Friday, up from 6.1 percent just a month earlier. And there was more grim news from U.S. automakers: Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., American giants struggling to survive, each reported big losses and figured to be announcing even more job cuts before long.

Regulators, meanwhile, shut down Houston-based Franklin Bank and Security Pacific Bank in Los Angeles on Friday, bringing the number of failures of federally insured banks this year to 19.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was appointed receiver of Franklin Bank, which had $5.1 billion in assets and $3.7 billion in deposits as of Sept. 30, and of Security Pacific Bank, with $561.1 million in assets and $450.1 million in deposits as of Oct. 17.

Read moreJobless ranks hit 10 million, most in 25 years; unemployment hits 14-year high

Obama’s choice draws anti-Arab taunt

Obama’s choice of White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel

In strikingly racist remarks, the father of Rahm Emanuel has said Israel will benefit from Obama’s choice of White House chief of staff.

“Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House,” Benjamin Emanuel, father of Rahm Emanuel, told the Israeli Ma’ariv daily.

In a Thursday statement, US president-elect Barack Obama announced that Rahm Emanuel had accepted his offer to serve as the next White House chief of staff, the highest-ranking member of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

News of Benjamin Emanuel’s comments came as Israeli newspapers rejoiced over Obama’s choice of the Illinois Congressman to become ‘the second-most powerful man in Washington’.

According to the Israeli Ha’aretz paper, Benjamin Emanuel ‘is a Jerusalem-born pediatrician who was a member of the Irgun (Etzel or IZL), a militant Zionist group that operated in Palestine between 1931 and 1948.’

Rahm Emanuel, who is named after a Zionist combatant, also served for the Israeli military during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Read moreObama’s choice draws anti-Arab taunt