Daily Archives: May 7, 2009

China rolls out ‘patriotic education’ campaign to beat downturn

After almost 60 years in power, the Communist Party knows how to keep public opinion on track

IRISH TIMES | Apr 29, 2009

BY CLIFFORD COONAN

CHINA IS tackling the economic slowdown head-on with a patriotic propaganda assault aimed at lifting national spirits in the face of rising discontent over unemployment and shrinking order books.

After almost 60 years in power, the Communist Party is the best in the world at keeping public opinion on track with highly sophisticated propaganda.

The “mass patriotic education” campaign to beat the downturn is no different. “Guide people to profoundly grasp the incomparable superiority of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Correctly understand the new changes in the international economic environment and in our country’s economic development,” the order issued by the party said.

You can expect to see similar messages painted on the walls of villages and towns around the country soon, as well as in the print and TV media, which are controlled by the government.

The Beijing government is planning TV shows, concerts, and a host of party meetings and public events to “bolster confidence in vanquishing hardship”, according to a directive from the Communist Party’s department of propaganda, which was published in the People’s Daily and other major newspapers.

China’s economy is centrally planned and directed, and the government has been upbeat on its prospects in recent months as its economic stimulus plan has taken hold.

Measures to combat issues seen as a threat, such as Sars, or major public events, such as the Olympics, are often wrapped into national campaigns, with stirring propaganda aimed at reminding the populace of their public duty to serve the people.

Some have been more controversial than others. The “Anti-Rightist Campaign”, even the “Cultural Revolution” itself, were examples of how pervasive propaganda’s influence has been in China over the years.

Mao Zedong’s campaign against the “Four Harms” during the “Great Leap Forward” in the 1950s targeted rats, sparrows, flies and mosquitos.

Citizens were given strict instructions to kill the four species. The campaign became famous because the measures to control both earthbound and flying vermin involved, for instance, banging pots and pans to scare sparrows into flight and have them eventually drop to earth, dead from exhaustion.

A campaign against spitting during the Sars epidemic in 2002/2003 led to a massive reduction in the number of people spitting on the streets.

As the other major economies of the world shrink, economic growth of 8 per cent is expected in China this year, despite the collapse of the export market.

Domestic consumption is being marshalled to ensure some of the decline in goods sold abroad is compensated for by consumers at home freeing up their huge savings, reckoned to be about 40 per cent of income.

However, armies of migrant workers are still leaving the boomtowns of the south and heading home, and some economists have warned that resolving economic problems is about more than boosting sentiment.

Some analysts are fearful that China could revive itself, but then face a deeper fall in the near term.

But for the time being, there are signs of recovery: people are returning to find work in the state-funded infrastructure programmes around the country, while Chinese consumers are doing their patriotic duty and spending.

At Shanghai train station last week, thousands of migrants were disembarking carrying their possessions in red, white and blue canvas suitcases.

And on the Avenue of Eternal Peace in central Beijing, newly arrived migrants wearing orange fluorescent work vests and helmets were working on roadbuilding projects and other infrastructure construction.

Some of the infrastructure work relates to a road-widening project to make way for the traffic of military vehicles during an enormous parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party’s ascension to power after the civil war of 1949.

The government has enlisted the help of the country’s most famous film director, Zhang Yimou, in orchestrating the parade.

It is also planning a major film, featuring almost every Chinese film star and director in some capacity and called The Great Cause of China’s Foundation, to rally the people around the big anniversary.

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said at the weekend that positive changes had taken place in the Chinese economy.

“Facing the impact of the financial crisis, the Chinese government has promptly introduced a policy package to expand domestic demand and maintain financial stability,” he told a meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee.

“Positive changes have appeared in the operation of the national economy, and overall performance is better than expected,” he added.

He said the slowdown in gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been contained, with GDP growth in the first quarter of 2009 reaching 6.1 per cent, while the growth rate in industrial production had also rebounded.

Now the campaign begins to convince people the statistics are translating into something genuine.

House bypasses governor’s veto to claim Oklahoma’s sovereignty

News OK | May 5, 2009

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT

Although Gov. Brad Henry vetoed similar legislation 10 days earlier, House members Monday again approved a resolution claiming Oklahoma’s sovereignty.

Unlike House Joint Resolution 1003, House Concurrent Resolution 1028 does not need the governor’s approval.

The House passed the measure 73-22. It now goes to the Senate.

“We’re going to get it done one way or the other,” said the resolutions’ author, Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City.

“I think our governor is out of step.”

House Democrats objected, saying the issue already had been taken up and had been vetoed, but House Speaker Pro Tempore Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, ruled the veto is not final action.

Key said he expects HCR 1028 will pass in the Senate. HJR 1003 earlier passed the House 83-18 and won approval in the Senate 29-18.

Henry vetoed HJR 1003 because he said it suggested, among other things, that Oklahoma should return federal tax dollars.

Key said HCR 1028, which, if passed, would be sent to Democratic President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, would not jeopardize federal funds but would tell Congress to “get back into their proper constitutional role.” The resolution states the federal government should “cease and desist” mandates that are beyond the scope of its powers.

Key said many federal laws violate the 10th Amendment, which says powers not delegated to the U.S. government “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution lists about 20 duties required of the U.S. government, he said.

Congress should not be providing bailouts to financial institutions and automakers, he said.

“We give all this money to all these different entities, including automakers, and now they’re talking about, ‘Well maybe it’s better to let them go bankrupt,’” Key said. “Well, maybe we should have let them go bankrupt before we gave them the money..”

Indonesian ‘hobbit’ confirmed to be a new species

Half-size humans whose remains were found on the remote Indonesian island of Flores in 2003 have been confirmed to be a new species, and not modern pygmies whose brains had shrivelled with disease.

Telegraph | May 6, 2009

Homo_florsiensisSince the discovery of Homo floresiensis – dubbed “the hobbit” due to its size – anthropologists have argued over the identity and origins of the cave-dwellers.

Measuring just three feet high and weighing 65 pounds, the tiny, tool-making hunters may have roamed the island as recently as 8,000 years ago.

Many scientists have said H. floresiensis were prehistoric humans descended from homo erectus, stunted by natural selection over millennia through a process called insular dwarfing.

Others countered that even this evolutionary shrinking, well known in island-bound animals, could not account for the hobbit’s chimp-sized brain of barely more than 400 cubic centimetres, a third the size of a modern human brain.

And how could such a being have been smart enough to craft its own stone tools?

The only plausible explanation, they insisted, was that the handful of specimens found suffered from a genetic disorder resulting in an abnormally small skull or – a more recent finding – that they suffered from “dwarf cretinism” caused by deficient thyroids.

But two new studies in the British journal Nature go a long way toward ending this debate.

A team led by William Jungers of the Stony Brook University in New York tackled the problem by analysing the hobbit’s foot.

In some ways it is very human. The big toe is aligned with the others and the joints make it possible to extend the toes as the body’s full weight falls on the foot, attributes not found in great apes.

But, in other respects, it is startlingly primitive: far longer than its modern human equivalent, and equipped with a very small big toe, long, curved lateral toes, and a weight-bearing structure closer to a chimpanzee’s.

Recent archeological evidence from Kenya shows that the modern foot evolved more than 1.5 million years ago, most likely in Homo erectus.

So unless the Flores hobbits became more primitive over time – an unlikely scenario – they must have branched off the human line at an even earlier date.

For Prof Jungers and his colleagues, this suggests “that the ancestor of H. floresiensis was not Homo erectus but instead some other, more primitive, hominin whose dispersal into southeast Asia is still undocumented,” the researchers conclude.

Companion studies, published online in the Journal of Human Evolution, bolster this theory by looking at other parts of the anatomy, and conjecture that these more ancient forebear may be the still poorly understood Homo habilis.

Either way, their status as a separate species would be confirmed.

Even this compelling new evidence, however, does not explain the hobbit’s inordinately small brain.

To investigate this, Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London compared fossils of several species of ancient hippos found on the island of Madagascar with the mainland ancestors from which they had evolved.

They were surprised to find that insular dwarfing – driven by the need to adapt to an island environment – shank their brains far more than had previously been thought possible.

“Whatever the explanation for the tiny brain of H. floresiensis relative to its body size, our evidence suggests that insular dwarfing could have played a role in its evolution,” they conclude.

While the new studies answer some questions, they also raise new ones sure to spark fresh debate, notes Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman in a comment, also published in Nature.

Only more fossil evidence will tell us whether the hobbits of Flores evolved from Homo erectus, whose traces have been found throughout Eurasia, or from an even more ancient lineage whose footsteps have not yet been traced outside Africa, he said.

‘Big Brother’ DNA database plan will place innocent people under suspicion for 12 years

Daily Mail | May 8, 2009

By James Slack

Innocent people will have to wait up to 12 years to have their DNA removed from the Government’s ‘Big Brother’ database, under controversial new plans.

Even those cleared of the most minor offences will have to wait six years, while some innocent children will have their profiles stored long after they have turned 18.

The proposals, which require a change in the law, were last night slammed by civil liberties groups, who are threatening to sue the Home Office.

They accused Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of an ‘ undignified rearguard’ action designed to do as little as possible to comply with a European Court of Human Rights’ ruling that storing the DNA of innocents is unlawful.

UNDER THE NEW PLAN:

* Profiles of adults and children arrested, but not convicted of serious crimes, will be kept for 12 years;
* Profiles of those arrested but not convicted of minor offences stored for six years;
* Youngsters convicted of only one minor offence will be deleted from the database when they turn 18;
* Children convicted of serious crime to have their profile stored indefinitely.

There will also be a ‘two strikes and you’re out policy’, whereby children accused twice of a minor offence must remain on the database for at least six years  –  even if they are cleared both times.

Campaigners had hoped that the samples of all 850,000 innocents stored on the database  –  the largest in the world  –  would be destroyed in the wake of last December’s judgment.

Home Office officials admit what is being proposed may not even be acceptable to the European courts, but insist to go further would weaken the fight against crime. And they claim 4,500 more crimes will be solved each year. Currently, under laws introduced by Tony Blair, anyone accused but not convicted can have their profile stored for life.

The process of removing innocents already on the database will take two years. Officials estimate that, at most, only 500,000 samples will be removed.

The proposals remain far tougher than in Scotland, where DNA is kept for a maximum of five years, even for those accused of the most serious crimes.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘People in Britain should be innocent until proven guilty.

‘Ministers are just trying to get away with as little as they possibly can instead of taking real action to remove innocent people from the DNA database. It’s just not good enough.’

Tory police spokesman James Brokenshire uncovered figures showing that  –  despite the huge growth in profiles on the database from 2.1million in 2002 to 5.6million today  –  the number of detected crimes in which a DNA match was available has fallen, from 21,098 to 17,614 last year.

Civil liberties groups have threatened legal action over the plans, which they said would leave Britain ‘massively out of step with the rest of the world’.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: ‘With regret we shall be forced to see her (Miss Smith) in court once more.’

Police will also track down around 30,000 criminals who committed serious crimes before the database was built so their profiles can be added. All genetic material taken will be destroyed  –  at a cost of almost £60million.

HUNT FOR 30,000 RAPISTS AND THUGS

Up to 30,000 rapists, murderers and vicious thugs convicted before the DNA database was established will be tracked down and forced to give samples.

The Home Office is to change the law to allow police to force those convicted of serious violence, sexual crimes or terrorism to hand over their DNA.

They will be made to give samples from their prison cells, or located within the community. Police say there are around 30,000 serious criminals missing from the database, which was established in 1995.

Anyone convicted of a significant offence abroad who later returns to the UK will also be included in the update.

The move is likely to prove controversial as it involves retrospective changes to the law.

Criminals could challenge the legislation on the grounds that they have served their time and are now entitled to privacy.

Indian Communist Chic

The Left Front stands to be a big electoral winner.

Wall Street Journal Asia | May 8, 2009

By SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

At first blush it may seem a paradox to some that India, the world’s largest democracy, is also home to one of the world’s most politically influential Communist movements outside of China. But India’s coalition of Communist parties, known as the Left Front, isn’t disappearing any time soon. They may very well gain influence after the results of India’s national election are announced May 16.

If they do, the Left Front could reshape Indian policy abroad as well as at home. The Communists can be expected to call for policies that India’s elites, who aspire to greater liberalization of the economy and closer corporate and strategic ties with the U.S., may well find unpalatable. They might seek to slow down the pace of military-to-military and nuclear cooperation between the two countries. The Left Front would also want the government to build closer economic and political ties with Russia, China and perhaps even Iran.

The Left Front has gained power not so much because of the popularity of its program but because it has positioned itself as a kingmaker between India’s two largest parties, the Congress Party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. Although the Left Front has never held more than 12% of seats in Parliament, it has wielded more influence over the past five years than ever before. In 2004, the support of the Left Front was crucial to the ability of Mr. Singh’s Congress-led coalition to form a majority government. Today, Congress is wondering whether that scenario might repeat itself this year.

Because of this dynamic, the Left Front could gain in influence in this election even if they win fewer seats in parliament than their current 64. Aware of their own strength as powerbrokers, the Communists have moved aggressively to capitalize on it. On the eve of the election, they resurrected a loose coalition of leftist and regional parties known as the Third Front to present voters with a viable national alternative to the two big players. The group is disparate in terms of leaders and ideologies, but it is expected to perform well in states like Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

If the BJP were to do extremely well in this election, the Left Front might play little or no role in government. But in a best-case scenario for the Left, if the Third Front does well it might well become a magnet for regional parties previously allied with one of the major parties. With coherent national policies and several decades of administrative experience in Bengal and Kerala, the Communists are a logical pole toward which regional players can gravitate. And if the Communists are the single largest formation within the front, they might even stake claim to lead the new government. The front-runner under such a scenario would be Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who, as chief minister of West Bengal, is, paradoxically, seen as an investor-friendly administrator.

Part of the reason India’s Communists have been able to remain relevant is the long-term decline in the electoral fortunes of the Congress and the BJP. Its policies too have appeal. While parties like the BJP inflame religious passions for political ends, the Left is seen as a consistent defender of minority rights and secular values. As the economy slows down in the face of worldwide recession, the Communists are also credited with saving India from a worse fate by blocking Congress efforts at banking and insurance deregulation and strongly rooting for an employment guarantee scheme for millions of poor families in the countryside.

The Communists’ ideological pragmatism has also contributed to their political success. Whatever the Communists might say in Delhi about the evils of economic reform, their state-level governments have tended to be pro-business. In Bengal, for example, the Marxist-led government of Mr. Bhattacharya came under fire from human-rights activists, Maoists and leftist intellectuals for attempting compulsorily to acquire land from peasants on behalf of large corporate investors like the Tatas.

The Communists are not unstoppable, though. The problem for the Left is that the pragmatism which makes them such an important player in the superstructure of Indian politics is also eroding their traditional support among workers and peasants at the base. The Marxist party’s emphasis on parliamentary politics and top-down coalition building has not helped it to expand its influence nationally. As the party and its allies vacate the space for “revolutionary” politics, Maoist insurgents have moved in to fill the void, establishing a strong presence in nearly 20% of the country’s districts. In Bengal and Kerala, unpopular policies — including those that smack of the “neoliberalism” the comrades excoriate — are likely to produce setbacks for the Communists in the present election. In the long run, these trends might well lead to their permanent weakening as a parliamentary force.

Yet in 2004, the two biggest national parties together polled fewer than half of all votes cast, the first time this had ever happened in countrywide polling. The story this time is not likely to be very different. The Communists, therefore, are going to remain a force to be reckoned with, at least for this election cycle and in the future too.

Mr. Varadarajan is associate editor of the Hindu in New Delhi.

Newborn Genetic Screening: The New Eugenics?

Medical News Today | May 5, 2009

The Citizens’ Council on Health Care has released a new report that demonstrates evidence and concerns about the extension of eugenics into State newborn screening programs. Today, many States are expanding testing, creating State genetic registries and using newborn blood and DNA to develop new tests for more comprehensive genomic screening of newborns at birth.

“To protect every American’s right to self-determination, genetic privacy, and DNA property rights, it is time to require informed written parent consent for all facets of the newborn genetic screening program, including storage and use of genetic test results and newborn DNA,” said Twila Brase, president of Citizens’ Council on Health Care, and author of the report.

Most States do not require parent consent for newborn genetic testing or for government retention of newborn genetic test results and baby DNA. Some States have now begun to retain each baby’s test results and DNA indefinitely for research. Most parents have no idea that government is doing the testing or retaining the data and DNA.

The new CCHC report begins with two quotes, the first from a December 2008 report, The Changing Moral Focus of Newborn Screening: An Ethical Analysis by The President’s Council on Bioethics and the second from Frederick Osborn, the former president of the American Eugenics Society, who wrote in 1946:

“Population, genetics, psychology, are the three sciences to which the eugenist must look for the factual material on which to build an acceptable philosophy of eugenics and to develop and defend practical eugenics proposals” (taken from War Against the Weak, New York Times-besting selling author, Edwin Black). “It is important for policymakers to look beyond the current newborn screening programs which test infants for only 21 to 60-some rare genetic conditions. Supporters of newborn screening appear to be planning for full genomic scans on every baby at birth,”said Brase.

Citizens’ Council on Health Care supports freedom for patients and doctors, medical innovation, and the right to a confidential patient-doctor relationship.

Former Thai PM accuses king of coup plot

Royal Watch News | Apr 21, 2009

Thailand’s former Prime Minister has accused the country’s king of plotting to overthrow him.

Thaksin Shinawatra claims King Bhumibol knew about the military coup that toppled Thaksin’s regime in 2006, but did nothing to stop it.

In an interview with Britain’s Financial Times newspaper, the former politician said leading generals and privy councilors had briefed the king about their plans to remove Thaksin prior to the coup.

Thai officials have denied Thaksin’s claims, insisting the king – who has publicly stayed out of the country’s political turmoil – was not involved in the leadership struggle.

A spokesman for the Thai embassy said: “This is a totally groundless allegation. It is a lie.”

A source close to King Bhumibol added: “The allegations are totally untrue”.

Thaksin claims coup leaders accused him of disloyalty and offered to “remove” him as a favour to the king.

He said: “The privy councillors went to have an audience with his majesty the king and told his majesty that they will do a favour for him by getting me because I am not loyal to the king. That started the whole process.”

Thaksin now lives in exile in London.