Japan joins US-Australia war games amid China tensions

July 5, 2015


SYDNEY: The United States and Australia kicked off a massive joint biennial military exercise on Sunday, with Japan taking part for the first time as tensions with China over territorial rows loom over the drills.

The two-week “Talisman Sabre” exercise in the Northern Territory and Queensland state involves 30,000 personnel from the US and Australia practising operations at sea, in the air and on land.

Some 40 personnel from Japan’s army — the Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) — will join the American contingent, while more than 500 troops from New Zealand are also involved in the exercise, which concludes on July 21.

“It is a very, very important alliance,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday in Sydney on board the USS Blue Ridge, which is taking part in the exercise, referring to Australia-US ties.

“It’s a very important relationship and right now we are facing quite significant challenges in many parts of the world but particularly in the Middle East.”

The war games, being held for the sixth time, come as China flexes its strategic and economic muscle in the region.

Beijing has been building artificial islands and facilities in disputed waters in the South China Sea, and has a separate territorial dispute with Japan over the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands — which it calls the Diaoyus — in the East China Sea.

“There’s subtle message going out that at every level — from hardware to technical and strategic expertise and cooperation – the main American allies and America are working very closely together largely to account for China,” John Lee, a China specialist at the University of Sydney, told AFP.

“It’s definitely linked to the notion that China is becoming more assertive and that it seems to be putting money into military capabilities to back up its assertiveness in the South China Sea in particular.”

Beijing rejected US criticism of its reclamation works in the South China Sea during the annual Shangri-La Dialogue meeting in May, saying it was just exercising its sovereignty.

The US has been pursuing a foreign policy “pivot” towards Asia, which has rattled China, and is rotating Marines through northern Australia — a move announced by President Barack Obama in 2011.

America’s other allies — such as Singapore, Malaysia, India, Vietnam and the Philippines — would be supportive of the exercise, as well as Australia and Japan’s activities in the region, Lee added.


AS the United States Seventh Fleet Command Ship USS Blue Ridge steamed up Sydney Harbour Prime Minister Tony Abbott told some of the 1100 sailors on board that they were a “comforting presence” in Australia.

Mr Abbott, NSW Governor David Hurley and his wife Linda, US Ambassador John Berry and Consul General Hugo Llorens flew onto the 20,000 tonne flag ship of the US Seventh Fleet today (JUL3) as she pitched and rolled in heavy seas off Sydney.

Fully equipped ... a goggled, headphoned and leather-jacket clad Mr Abbott is met by Vice

Fully equipped … a goggled, headphoned and leather-jacket clad Mr Abbott is met by Vice Admiral Robert L Thomas and US Ambassador John Berr. Picture: Tim Hunter Source: News Corp Australia

Mr Abbott, who resembled a wartime leader as he emerged onto the ship’s deck from a Seahawk chopper in a RAAF leather flying jacket, said Australia was grateful for the work that US forces did with Australian forces right around the world.

“Right now we are facing significant challenges in many parts of the world. I am very appreciative of everything our two countries do together.”

The oldest operational ship (45 years) in the US Navy the Japan based Blue Ridge will be the command ship for the sixth biennial Talisman Sabre exercise that runs for two weeks and involves more than 30,000 personnel engaged in complex war games across Northern Australia.

Meet and greet ... Tony Abbott in the barber shop on board the USS Blue Ridge. Picture: T

Meet and greet … Tony Abbott in the barber shop on board the USS Blue Ridge. Picture: Tim Hunter. Source: News Corp Australia

“Who are the goodies and the baddies?” Mr Abbott asked during an exercise briefing inside the ship’s command centre.

The key exercise scenario involves two allied task forces working together to restore democracy in two notional countries.

One is called “Ligais” and is based on Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and the other is “Monmir” around Fog Bay near Darwin.

Inspecting the troops ... Mr Abbott speaking with sailors taking part in the Talisman Sab

Inspecting the troops … Mr Abbott speaking with sailors taking part in the Talisman Sabre Operation. Picture: Tim Hunter.Source: News Corp Australia

Both have been taken over by rebel forces supported by a larger power called “Kamaria”.

Responding to questions about China the exercise commander and Seventh Fleet chief Vice Admiral Robert Thomas said none of the notional countries in the exercise should be associated with any “real world” nations.

“It is really capability and capacity that we are testing out,” he said.

“The one word take away … is interoperability.”

Deputy exercise commander Australian Major General Stuart Smith said Talisman Sabre would test the capacity of both forces to work together in the future if necessary.

“It is a fantastic training opportunity,” he said.

Mr Abbott’s ship tour took in everything from the bridge to the barber shop where a shocked sailor got to show off his standard navy issue haircut.

Getting to know the crew ... Tony Abbott with Lt. Lauren Cole on board the USS Blue Ridge

Getting to know the crew … Tony Abbott with Lt. Lauren Cole on board the USS Blue Ridge today. Picture: Tim Hunter.Source: News Corp Australia

The 1100 sailors had their own ideas about “comfort” as they took in the Opera House and Harbour Bridge on the eve of US Independence Day.

Vice Admiral Thomas said it was great to hear that his sailors were a comforting presence.

“Hopefully they are well behaved.”

Mr Abbott and Ambassador Berry provided some sound advice to the visitors who have been well briefed on next week’s State of Origin decider.

“You must visit the Lord Nelson Hotel and try Nelson’s blood,” Mr Berry advised.

“It is a great pub,” Mr Abbott said.

Apart from the threat from “drop” bears, flying foxes, great white sharks and poisonous snakes and spiders the cashed up sailors were ready to invest their strong US dollars in Sydney’s bars and restaurants and Hunter Valley wineries.

Tim Accredited USS BLUE RIDGE

The briefing starts … (l-r) Mr Abbott, Vice Admiral Robert L Thomas, Mr Berry and Major General Stuart Smith. Picture: Tim Hunter Source: News Corp Australia

“I have heard that Sydney is a great place,” said MCC Chief Petty Officer Ja’lon Rhinehart.

“Is it an expensive city?’

Not when your currency buys $1.32 Aussie.

For Lieutenant Lauren Cole the wineries of the Hunter Valley beckoned as she looked forward to ditching her slicked back navy hair style for loose hair, jeans and a sweater.

“I can be a girl again,” she said.

Lieutenant Chuck Banks was very interested in the local wildlife.

“I hear there are drop bears,” he said.

The US Seventh Fleet is the biggest American naval force with 51 ships, 10 submarines, 170 aircraft and 40,000 personnel. That is more fire power than the entire Australian Defence Force.


Greek referendum: No vote on track for landslide victory

July 5, 2015


Athens Syriza leader and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras speaks to the media after voting Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Supporters of the No campaign are starting to celebrate in Athens, with almost 40% of votes now counted:

An anti-austerity ‘No’ voter waves a flag with the name of Prime Minister Tsipras as he celebrate the results of the first exit polls in Athens. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters

An anti-austerity ‘No’ voter celebrates in Athens. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

Young supporters of the Syriza party and No vote campaign react after first results of the referendum at Klafthmonos square in central Athens. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/Corbis



Greek referendum results live: No vote to eurozone bail-out deal leads by 60 per cent

After 40pc of the vote is counted, Greeks look to have voted ‘No’ with a 60pc majority against Europe’s bail-out conditions

• ‘No’ vote takes lead of more than 60 per cent
• EU Schulz: Greeks will need a new currency after ‘No’
• One of big four banks on brink of running out of notes
What happens next if there is a ‘No’ vote
Time to face reality: Greece needs mass debt relief now
Referendum gallery

If you’re Greek and voting today, get in touch with your thoughts:mehreen.khan@telegraph.co.uk


‘No’ celebrations begin

Celebrations have begun in central Athens among ‘No’ voters as lead stands at 61 per cent with around 40 per cent of votes in.

Greece is facing unprecedented uncertainty, but that hasn’t stopped these Athenians from taking to the streets in delight.


‘Volatility awaits’

David Joy, the Boston-based chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. has said the ‘No’ vote could cause chaos: “The market right now hasn’t priced in a potential ‘no’ vote.

“If we get one, we’re going to see another round of downside volatility in excess of what we saw on Monday. The move would be more violent.”


61% v 39%

There is a consistent margin of around 61 per cent ‘No’ and 39 per cent ‘Yes’ as votes continue to come in. Up to a third of all votes counted now.


Safe deposit boxes to remain locked

Greeks cannot withdraw cash left in safe deposit boxes at Greek banks as long as capital restrictions remain in place, Nadia Valavani the deputy finance minister has told Greek television.


What we know as 7pm approaches

It looks like Greeks have voted by a large margin to reject the austerity terms of an aid package from international creditors.

With more than 20 per cent of referendum votes counted, the ‘No’ vote led by more than 60 per cent of the vote.

Greece now enters unknown economic and financial territory, with no clear path to continued European aid and banks closed since Alexis Tsipras suddenly abandoned talks with creditors to call the referendum a week ago.

The country’s immediate fate lies with the European Central Bank, which may take its cues from European Union leaders as to whether it can keep emergency loans flowing to a country without the prospect of a bailout package.

“If confirmed, the ‘no’ would not put Greece on autopilot towards Grexit,” Holger Schmieding, an economist in London at financial group Berenberg, said by e-mail. “But it makes it much more difficult to still avoid that fate.”



By Karolina Tagaris and Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greeks voted overwhelmingly “No” on Sunday in a historic bailout referendum, partial results showed, defying warnings from across Europe that rejecting new austerity terms for fresh financial aid would set their country on a path out of the euro.

With nearly a fifth of the votes counted, official figures showed 60.4 percent of Greeks on course to reject a bailout offer from creditors that was the official issue of the ballot. The figures showed the Yes vote drew 40.1 percent. An official projection of the final result is expected at 1800 GMT (1400 EDT).

Officials from the Greek government, which had argued that a ‘No’ vote would strengthen its hand to secure a better deal from international creditors after months of wrangling, immediately said they would try to restart talks with European partners.

“The negotiations which will start must be concluded very soon, even within 48 hours,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Greek television.” We will undertake every effort to seal it soon.”

Euclid Tsakalotos, the government’s chief negotiator said talks could restart as early as Sunday evening.

Many of Athens’ partners have warned over the past week that a ‘No’ vote would mean cutting bridges with Europe and driving Greece’s crippled financial system into outright bankruptcy, dramatically worsening the country’s 5-year-long depression.

If confirmed, the result would also deliver a hammer blow to the European Union’s grand single currency project. Intended to be permanent and unbreakable when it was created 15 years ago, the euro zone could now be on the point of losing its first member with the risk of further unraveling to come.

“I believe such a result can be used as a strong negotiating tool so that Europeans can understand that we are not a colony,” said Nefeli Dimou, a 23-year-old student in Athens.

Greek banks, which have been closed all week and rationing withdrawals from cash machines, are expected to run out of money within days unless the European Central Bank provides an emergency lifeline. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is due to meet top Greek bankers later on Sunday and State Minister Nikos Pappas, one of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s closest aides, said it was “absolutely necessary” to restore liquidity to the banking system now that the vote is over.

However the European Central Bank, which holds a conference call on Monday morning, may be reluctant to increase emergency lending to Greek banks after voters rejected the spending cuts and economic reforms which creditors consider essential to make Greek public finances viable, central bankers said.

In Brussels, EU officials said there would be no comment until the final results are announced.

First indications were that any joint European political response may take a couple of days. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will meet in Paris on Monday afternoon. The European Commission, the EU executive, meets in Strasbourg on Tuesday and will report to the European Parliament on the situation.

“EU leaders must get together immediately, even on Monday. The situation is too serious to leave to finance ministers,” said Axel Schaefer, a deputy head of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the German parliament.

“You have to have confidence in the ability of the ECB to act. We must use all the possibilities in the EU budget to help Greece, which is still a member of the euro and the EU.”


A ‘No’ vote would leave Greece and the euro zone in uncharted waters. Unable to borrow money on capital markets, Greece has one of the world’s highest levels of public debt. The International Monetary Fund warned last week that it would need massive debt relief and 50 billion euros in fresh funds.

Greek officials see the IMF report as a vital support for their argument that the bailout terms as they stood would merely have driven Greece further into depression.

Tsipras called the referendum eight days ago after rejecting the tough terms offered by international creditors as the price for releasing billions of euros in bailout funds.

He denounced the bailout terms as “blackmail” and his argument that a ‘No’ vote would allow the government to get a better deal appears to have convinced many Greeks, particularly among younger voters who have been ravaged by unemployment levels of nearly 50 percent.

“I have been jobless for nearly four years and was telling myself to be patient,” said 43-year-old Eleni Deligainni, who said she voted ‘No’. “But we’ve had enough deprivation and unemployment.”

Opinion polls over the months have shown a large majority of Greeks want to remain in the euro. But, exhausted and angry after five years of cuts, falling living standards and rising taxes imposed under successive bailout programs, many appear to have shrugged off the warnings of disaster, trusting that a deal can still be reached.

(Additional reporting by Noah Barkin and Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Isla Binnie in Rome, Paul Taylor in Brussels, Renee Maltezou, Lefteris Papadimas, Karolina Tagaris; Writing by James Mackenzie, Editing by Alessandra Galloni; Editing by Peter Graff)

China’s move toward restricting foreign NGOs spurs anxiety in many organizations

July 5, 2015



By Julie Makinen
The Los Angeles Times

When a massive earthquake struck Nepal in April, Chinese nongovernmental organizations rushed in to provide help, making camp on the grounds of the national palace museum and distributing water, food and tents.

A Lions Club chapter in Guangdong province pitched in; so did the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, among others.

But Chinese nonprofits are not just engaging with neighbors during disasters: They have helped build hospitals in Sudan and organized educational exchanges with African lawyers.

The nascent coming-out reflects China’s economic and social development, as well as a recognition that such activities are a means to enhance the country’s image.

But even as Chinese NGOs have started casting their gaze overseas, international nonprofits working in China are feeling a chill. Draft legislation under consideration could, for the first time, put foreign nonprofits under the direct supervision of China’s security apparatus and impose a range of restrictions. Among the proposed rules: requiring half of all staff to be Chinese and forbidding direct recruitment of volunteers.

The legislation apparently would cover philanthropic groups such as the Gates Foundation and Doctors Without Borders, environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, educational entities and nonprofit trade associations such as the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the Motion Picture Assn. Overseas entities such as orchestras and museums that want to do tours or other short-term activities in China would need consent from security officials.

China says the aim of the legislation is to bring foreign nonprofits out of a legal gray area; many are now essentially registered as businesses on the mainland because China has lacked clear national regulations for foreign NGOs (aside from a few dozen overseas foundations registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs). The draft law “is part of our effort to rule the country according to law, and also part of our effort to align China with the international community,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an interview.

Wang said the new law would not create obstacles to NGOs that are “dedicated to promoting exchanges and cooperation with the Chinese people in accordance with Chinese laws.” But the proposed legislation comes in wake of the establishment of a new National Security Council, the drafting of a new national security law, and rising government rhetoric warning against the pernicious influence of “Western values.”

The legislation says foreign NGOs must not endanger China’s “national unity, security or ethnic unity” nor “harm China’s national interests” nor “illegally engage in religious activities” and cannot raise money within China.

The proposal has inspired significant anxiety among foreign nonprofits — some of whom say they may be forced to curtail their activities or withdraw from China altogether — as well as many Chinese partner organizations, who worry that their overseas funding and professional support could be cut or criminalized.

Representatives of 10 major foreign nonprofits operating in China, contacted for comment, refused to be quoted by name or organization for fear of antagonizing Chinese authorities. “People are so skittish right now,” said Anthony J. Spires, an associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong whose research focuses on civil society and NGOs in China. “It’s really a big deal.”

But 45 foreign trade groups and professional organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and the American Bar Assn., wrote an unusual letter last month to Chinese authorities, warning that unless revised, the legislation would have a “significant adverse impact on the future of U.S.-China relations.”

Foreign industry associations, universities, environmental groups, science and technology groups and other NGOs, the 45 signees said, are key to businesses’ research, market development, information sharing, innovation and corporate philanthropy activities. The legislation would even seem to limit Chinese engineers from participating in international professional societies, it said.

As drafted, the law would “negatively impact the ability of companies to do business in China, as well as U.S.-China commercial and people-to-people exchanges,” said James Zimmerman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “This is increasingly important as China globalizes and its companies and NGOs expand overseas.”
Exactly how many foreign NGOs operate in China is unclear; Spires put the number at 200 to 300, though some estimates range as high as 6,000. Fewer than 30 foreign foundations are registered with the Civil Affairs Ministry. China has more than 4,000 domestic foundations as well as 600,000 registered domestic NGOs, many of which have significant government participation, despite engaging in NGO-type activities.

The draft legislation calls for foreign entities in China with nonprofit parent organizations abroad to find a Chinese government agency to serve as their “sponsor”; the government is to publish a list of authorized sponsor agencies. But finding a sponsor may prove difficult, experts said, because government officials may be wary of vouching for a foreign entity.

“This would be a political risk, a personal risk” to one’s career, Spires said.

But more concerning, Spires said, was the possible “ripple” damage to links between Chinese civil society groups and foreign nonprofits — cutting off funding, inhibiting mentoring and closing off the exchange of ideas.

“The law basically would prohibit any entity in China from receiving funding or doing partnerships with any non-approved foreign NGOs,” said Huang Xuetao, a Chinese attorney who works with grass-roots organizations. Huang said she believes Communist Party authorities fear that foreign NGOs are promoting “Western values” and ideology.

“For Chinese authorities, this is a real threat; they view Western influence as undermining their role,” she said. “But from a legal point of view, it’s hard to regulate value systems. Laws can mostly only regulate actions.… So they have drafted this law to take away as much freedom as possible and hand it to police.”

A staff member of a foreign nonprofit who has 30 years of experience in China said she believed there were several triggers for the concern among Chinese authorities — including the U.S. surveillance activities revealed by Edward Snowden; the U.S. “pivot” to Asia; and last year’s “Occupy Central” pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which some mainland Chinese authorities said were instigated or supported by foreign “black hands.”

“All of this has fed a real worsening of bilateral [U.S.-China] relations that is about the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said.

A monthlong comment period on the draft legislation ended in early June, but no Chinese or foreigners working in the sector expressed any optimism that major revisions would be made. Still, several said the real clarity will not come until Public Security authorities begin implementation and enforcement.

“It’s incredibly comprehensive in its approach,” one representative of a European-based nonprofit said. “But we need to see how much micromanagement they do. For example, when they say they want to review our plans yearly, does that mean general plans or something very specific? Nobody knows yet.”


Tommy Yang in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

Greece debt crisis: Polls close in bailout referendum — Polls say ‘No’ voters have the lead

July 5, 2015

Oxi No protest Greece

Polls say ‘No’ voters have the lead

Greece is voting today in a nationwide referendum on whether the accept the EU bailout package. If it votes “Yes” (Nai), it must continue to repay the crushing debt load to the IMF that has crippled the country’s economy over the last few years. But the country does get to stay in the EU and keep the euro as its currency. If it votes “No” (Oki),  then Greece will likely default on almost all its remaining debt, maybe exit the EU, abandon the euro and re-adopt its old currency, the drachma. That would plunge Greece into even more economic turmoil as it would become an international pariah, largely cut off from the credit markets countries need to finance themselves.

Here is our live coverage:

Merkel and Hollande will meet tomorrow to discuss Greece

Reuters reports that the German Chancellor will meet the French President on Monday night to talk about the situation in Greece.

“No” voters are already celebrating

Drivers in Athens are honking their horns as opinion polls suggest that “No” voters are out in front

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/greece-referendum-live-blog-of-yes-no-vote-on-grexit-2015-7#ixzz3f2IKR6zy


BBC news

Millions of Greeks have voted in a crucial referendum on whether to accept the terms of an international bailout.

Opinion polls released as voting ended suggested a slight lead for the “No” vote.

No exit polls were published. The first official results are expected in the coming hours.

The government had urged people to vote “No”, while the “Yes” campaign warned that this could see Greece ejected from the eurozone.

The governing radical-left Syriza party has criticised the bailout terms as humiliating. Its leading figures say rejecting the terms could give them more leverage in talks over the country’s massive debt.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday that a “No” would show Greece’s determination “not only to stay in Europe but to live with dignity in Europe”.

However, international creditors have warned that a “No” vote could choke off vital funding for Greek banks and lead to “Grexit” – a chaotic departure from the common European currency.

The “Yes” campaign has framed the vote as a referendum on Greek membership of the eurozone.

Follow our live updates


At the scene: The BBC’s Mark Lowen in Athens

Under a cloudless sky they are streaming into this Athens polling station on a day that will shape the fate of Greece and of Europe. It is the climax of the Greek debt story: when this nation will accept or reject the entire eurozone strategy of the past five years.

If Greeks say “Yes”, it would be hard to see this government staying put, having led the campaign against the measures. If it is a “No”, emergency funds to Greek banks would be in jeopardy and eurozone leaders say a euro exit would be hastened. That’s simply scaremongering, says the Greek government. But if negotiations do resume, there will be plenty of bad blood.

This campaign has profoundly divided Greeks. Tassos, voting “Yes”, told me that Greece belongs in Europe. On the other side, 83-year-old Anastasia told me she couldn’t survive on her meagre pension and was voting “for my homeland”.

What is the referendum about?


By the afternoon, local media were reporting a high turnout.

“In the end I went for ‘Yes’,” one voter in Athens, Maya Korba, told the BBC. “I don’t really know what both answers will mean and to be honest I’m not happy with either, but we have to hope.”


Athens resident Maya Korba voted “Yes” – but was not truly happy with either option


Officials had to scramble to get polling stations ready in time

Banks have been shut and capital controls in place since the start of the week, after the European Central Bank declined to give Greece more emergency funding.

Withdrawals at cash machines have been limited to €60 per day.

The country’s current bailout expired on Tuesday and Greece missed a €1.6bn (£1.1bn) payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Robert Peston, BBC economics editor, Athens

Since I arrived in Athens, I have witnessed Greeks queuing at those cash machines that are working, to withdraw the maximum amount of cash they’re allowed under the restrictions implemented last Monday.

“My concern is that if there is no easing up of the restrictions, companies will start laying off workers tomorrow,” said a senior banker.

He added that the so-called capital controls, which include a ban on movement of money abroad, are leading to chronic shortages of medicines, foods, vital raw materials and other important goods.

Banks ‘days away from running out of cash’


Capital controls have been in place in Greece over the past week

Casting his ballot, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis described the referendum as “a holy moment” that “gives hope that the common currency and democracy can co-exist”.

Mr Varoufakis earlier told local media that the EU had “no legal grounds” to throw Greece out of the euro.

The finance minister said banks would reopen on Tuesday, whatever the outcome, and that Mr Tsipras would still reach an agreement with creditors if the result was “No” in the referendum.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said negotiations should continue even in the case of a win for the “No” vote, and that Europe could not “crush an entire people”.

Meanwhile, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, one of Greece’s harshest critics, suggested that if Greece were to leave the eurozone, it might only be temporary.

Greece was a member of the eurozone, “whether with the euro or temporarily without it – only the Greeks can answer this question,” he told the German newspaper Bild on Saturday. “And it is clear that we will not leave the people in the lurch.”


Ballot paper question

“Should the agreement plan submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June, 2015, and comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal, be accepted? The first document is titled “reforms for the completion of the current programme and beyond” and the second “Preliminary debt sustainability analysis”.

Voters must check one of two boxes – “not approved/no” or, below it, “approved/yes”

Voices from a Greek island

The question that makes (almost) no sense


Electoral workers have raced to get polling stations ready in time, with army helicopters being used instead of boats to rush ballot papers to the islands. Nearly 10 million people are eligible to vote.

Several European officials have complained in strong terms about Greece’s abrupt decision to hold a referendum on the terms of a bailout offer they say is no longer on the table.

Greece’s Syriza-led government was elected in January on an anti-austerity platform.

The European Commission – one of the “troika” of creditors along with the IMF and the European Central Bank – wants Athens to raise taxes and slash welfare spending to meet its debt obligations.

Includes video:


For Many, Obamacare Is Becoming The Unaffordable Care Act

July 5, 2015

By Richard Eisenberg

Let me start by saying this is not a political screed againstObamacare; I’m thrilled that some 18 million Americans now have health insurance who didn’t before the law took effect, lowering the percentage of uninsured adults from 18% in 2013 to 11.9% today.But I’m growing concerned that for some people — especially older, middle- and lower-income adults — the Affordable Care Act is becoming The Unaffordable Care Act.A Growing Problem: The UnderinsuredSeveral recent studies suggest to me that due to a combination of Obamacare’s incentives to reduce premiums; the rise of so-called “consumer-driven” and high-deductible health plans and employers’ moves to combat the Affordable Care Act’s coming “Cadillac tax” on certain health plans, rising numbers of Americans are now not uninsured, but underinsured.

(MORE: Medical Bills: Worse Than You Thought)

What’s underinsured? The Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health research group, defines the underinsured as insured people whose out-of-pocket costs — excluding premiums — equal 10% or more of household income (5% or more for the low-income) or whose deductibles equal 5% or more of household income.) Commonwealth says 23% of insured people between age 19 and 64 are underinsured, double when it looked in 2003.

In other words, these people are finding themselves facing enormous out-of-pocket health expenses — sometimes leading them to deplete their savings and rack up serious medical debt.

Meantime, the new economics of health care are causing confusion among employees. Only 18% of boomers understand consumer-driven health care, for example, according to the 2015 Aflac WorkForces Report.

“I think everyone is confused,” says Chris Duke, director of the Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care at Altarum Institute, a nonprofit health systems research and consulting group. Adds Paul Fronstein, a Senior Research Associate with the Employee Benefit Research Institute: “Consumer-driven health care is a lot different than what most of us have been used to seeing in the past.”

Alarming Stats From Assorted New Studies

Here’s what a boatload of recent studies and articles show:

Many households, particularly those with lower incomes, don’t have enough in ready savings to cover their deductibles or their plans’ out-of-pocket limits. That’s from a February 2015 report of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly half of underinsured adults with problems paying medical bills or with medical debt used up their savings to pay their bills, said the Commonwealth Fund.

Employers are increasingly requiring employees to sign up for consumer-driven health plans (CDHP) or their cousins, high-deductible health plans (HDHP). And the trend is expected to continue. One reason: Obamacare aims to lower premiums and one way employers can do this is by raising employees’ deductibles, since there’s a seesaw aspect to health insurance.

(MORE: Retirement Health Costs: Planning for the Wild Card)

CDHPs are Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans with high annual deductibles — at least $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for family coverage — combined with tax-sheltered Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) or Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA). They covered about 26 million people in 2014, or 15% of the privately insured market, and employees in them are more likely to be age 45 to 54, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

HDHPs work similarly to CDHPs but they don’t have HSAs (apologies for the alphabet soup).

The number of organizations offering CDHPs almost doubled from 2007 to 2013 and the number of members enrolled in them nearly quadrupled during that period, according to the April 2015 Truven Health MarketScan. Truven says 64% of large employers now offer one or more CDHP and 76% plan to in the future.

Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax,” which takes effect in 2018, is encouraging employers to switch to high-deductible plans so employees will share more of their health care costs. It’s a 40% excise tax on health benefits companies provide beyond a certain threshold — $10,200 for singles and $27,500 for families in 2018. (The average premium last year was $6,025 for singles and $16,834 for families, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

A recent Politico.com story, which called the Cadillac tax “the next big Obamacare battle” said the benefits consulting firm Mercer estimates that roughly a third of employers will owe the Cadillac tax in 2018 — and roughly 60% in 2022 — if they don’t change their plans.

Says Fronstein: “The Cadillac tax will drive more and more employers to adopt plans that raise the deductibles and lower premiums.”

Employees in high-deductible plans are seeing huge increases in out-of-pocket costs and some are trimming medical care as a result. The Truven study says CDHP members saw a 69% increase in claims-based, out-of-pocket costs over three years compared to a 23% increase for non-CDHP members. Also, it notes, after switching to CDHPs, members had fewer medical visits and lab services, smaller supplies of prescription drugs than expected if they’d stayed in non-CDHP plans and were less likely to receive care for existing chronic conditions than their non-CDHP counterparts.

Similarly, the Commonwealth Fund report said 44% of underinsured adults reported not getting needed medical care in the past year because of the cost. It also found that 41% with deductibles of $3,000 or more reported problems paying their medical bills or were paying off medical debt.

Meantime, health costs are outpacing inflation. Health care prices have risen 15.6% since December 2007, while consumer prices overall increased by 11.1%, according to the Altarum Institute. Some health insurers are proposing premium hikes of 15 to 35% in 2016, according to the Obama Administration.

And many people buying insurance through the Obamacare exchanges are facing unexpected medical bills that sometimes greatly exceed the Affordable Care Act’s caps on out-of-pocket expenses, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

That’s because the limits on out-of-pocket costs ($6,600 for an individual and $13,200 for a family in 2015) amazingly don’t apply to charges from out-of-network providers. And, the Journal says, health plans with limited or “narrow” networks comprise roughly half of all Obamacare exchange networks. The number of health insurers offering narrow-network plans has grown, overall, in recent years.

How to Lower Your Health Costs

One way people might be able to keep their health costs down is to do more research about the price of potential medical care and then choose a less expensive alternative without sacrificing quality. Duke cites a Journal of the American Medical Association study that found patients who used a particular price-comparison tool cut their lab test costs by 14%.

“Consumer-driven health care is about empowering consumers with information so they can make the best choices,” says Matthew Owenby, senior vice president and chief HR officer at Aflac.

Problem is, health care transparency “is in a very bad state,” Duke says. “Transparency is increasing, but we have a very long way to go,” he adds. One new site that impresses Duke: the Health Care Cost Institute’s Guroo.com, which offers typical pricing for 78 “care bundles” and 17 conditions based on cost data from 40 million patients. It’s similar to Healthcare Bluebook, Duke notes.

In today’s consumer-driven health care world, it’s time to start driving.

Richard Eisenberg is the senior Web editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Assistant Managing Editor for the site and a contributor to Forbes. Follow him on Twitter @richeis315.


Health Insurance Companies Seek Big Rate Increases for 2016
The New York Times

Healthcare in Britain: National Health Service — We must find savings to the enormous costs

July 5, 2015


Telegraph View: Our analysis of NHS spending indicates that savings are there to be made – from painkillers to toilet roll…

Scandal of NHS 'production line'

Some NHS trusts spend far more than others on everyday essentials Photo: GETTY

Prayer and Meditation for Monday, July 6, 2015 — “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.” — “Know that I am with you — I will protect you wherever you go.”

July 5, 2015

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 383

Reading 1 GN 28:10-22A


Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and proceeded toward Haran.
When he came upon a certain shrine, as the sun had already set,
he stopped there for the night.
Taking one of the stones at the shrine, he put it under his head
and lay down to sleep at that spot.
Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground,
with its top reaching to the heavens;
and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.
And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying:
“I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham
and the God of Isaac;
the land on which you are lying
I will give to you and your descendants.
These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth,
and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south.
In you and your descendants
all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.
Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to this land.
I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.
”When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed,
“Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!”
In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine!
This is nothing else but an abode of God,
and that is the gateway to heaven!”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone
that he had put under his head,
set it up as a memorial stone, and poured oil on top of it.
He called the site Bethel,
whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.
Jacob then made this vow: “If God remains with me,
to protect me on this journey I am making
and to give me enough bread to eat and clothing to wear,
and I come back safe to my father’s house, the LORD shall be my God.
This stone that I have set up as a memorial stone shall be God’s abode.”.
Art: Jacob at Bethel

Responsorial Psalm PS 91:1-2, 3-4, 14-15AB

R. (see 2b) In you, my God, I place my trust.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
For he will rescue you from the snare of the fowler,
from the destroying pestilence.
With his pinions he will cover you,
and under his wings you shall take refuge.
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress.
R. In you, my God, I place my trust.

.Alleluia SEE 2 TM 1:10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 9:18-26

Christ Healing a bleeding woman, as depicted in the Catacombs of Rome.

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward,
knelt down before him, and said,
“My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him
and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
“Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”
And from that hour the woman was cured.
When Jesus arrived at the official’s house
and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion,
he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.”
And they ridiculed him.
When the crowd was put out, he came and took her by the hand,
and the little girl arose.
And news of this spread throughout all that land.

Commentary on Matthew 9:18-26 From Living Space

There is a great contrast in the way Matthew tells this double story compared to Mark.

Matthew strips it down to the bare details. The 20 verses that Mark needs are reduced here to 9. He makes no mention of the large crowd that was following Jesus; only his disciples are present. He concentrates on Jesus and on what Jesus does and says.

A synagogue official approaches Jesus and says that his daughter has just died. He is in fact the head of the synagogue and in Mark and Luke we learn that his name is Jairus. In Mark’s version, the girl is seriously ill and only dies later in the story. “Please come and lay your hand on her and she will come back to life.” It is an extraordinary act of faith in the power of Jesus. Up to this he had not brought anyone back from the dead.

As Jesus and his disciples were on the way to the house, a woman who had suffered from a bleeding problem for 12 years unobtrusively touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall get well.” Again, we are presented with a deep faith and trust in Jesus’ power.

This was really the only way this unfortunate woman could approach Jesus with other people around. Her bleeding was not only a physical ailment. It also involved ritual uncleanness and she was not supposed to be in close contact with people. If they had known, they might have done something terrible to her. Nor, for the same reason, could she approach Jesus openly about her problem, so she quietly touched the hem of his robe. She trusted that that would be enough and she was right.

Jesus, realising she had touched his garment, turned and said kindly, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has made you whole again.” And the bleeding stops instantly.

We now go back to the original story. As Jesus and his disciples approach the house they find a large crowd of mourners, many of them wailing and weeping in the fashion still common in West, South and East Asia. Jesus tells them all to go away. “The little girl is not dead; she is asleep.” At which, the crowd laughed at him. Whether the girl was actually dead or was simply in some kind of death-like coma does not really matter. As far as everyone around was concerned she was dead.

Jesus went into the house, took the girl by the hand and she “arose”. There are overtones of resurrection in the word “arose”.

In both these stories, using the literary device of ‘inclusion’ with one story wrapped inside another, we have a common theme of Jesus as Lord of life. It is Matthew’s way of saying what we read in John: “I am the resurrection and the life.” That life is to be understood in the fullest possible sense involving the physical, social, intellectual and spiritual.

In one story the girl is not only given back her physical life but is restored to the bosom of her family and all that means. In the other story, not only is the woman’s haemorrhage stopped but she can be fully reinstated into normal relationships with the people around her. She is in a very real sense made whole again.

Let us today pray for Jesus to heal us and make us whole, the wholeness that is holiness, the holiness that is wholeness.


Embracing Our Brokenness
When Jesus allows an impure woman to touch him and touches the hand of a corpse, he contracts ritual impurity under the law (Lev 15:19-33; Num 19:11-12). Of course we might argue that Jesus contracted no uncleanness in actuality; as in the case of his contact with sinners, the influence went from him to them rather than the reverse (Mt 9:11-13). Yet in the eyes of those present, he has assumed the status of uncleanness (see the fuller account in Mk 5:33, where Jesus even invites public attestation of the touch).
He is willing to touch us in our brokenness that we might be made whole.
In a world where women were nearly always second-class citizens and where male authors who cited women as examples of heroism treated them as exceptions (as in Plut. Bravery of Women), the Gospels’ greater balance is intriguing. Yet this balance fits the rest of Jesus’ ministry and teaching: it was the socially powerless who most readily embraced him. Socially accepted Christians who are disturbed by something missing in their zeal should take note; we should humble ourselves and listen to Christians from socially marginalized groups.
The point is not to insult those who are not marginalized, but that the broken and marginalized have much to teach us about humble and often desperate dependence on the grace of God.
Jesus Is Willing to Heal and Even Restore to Life (9:18-19)Matthew wrote his Gospel to tell Christians more about the Lord they worshiped. We can show devotion to the Lord about whom we read by getting to know what he is like through these accounts and acknowledging his character as we praise him.An Example of Scandalous Faith (9:20-21)Because of this woman’s continual flow of blood, she was not permitted to move about in crowds; anyone she touched or whose cloak she touched became unclean. Abbreviating as he often does, Matthew omits Mark’s crowds (Mk 5:27) but retains the woman’s intention: she is so desperate that she will touch the teacher, knowing full well that this will make him unclean under the law (Lev 15:25-27; m. Toharot 5:8).
Her condition is desperate both for medical reasons and because of its social consequences; her ostracism would extend even to her private life. Her ailment probably had kept her from marriage if it started at puberty, and almost surely would have led to divorce if it began after she was married (which would have been within a few years after puberty), since intercourse was prohibited under such circumstances (Lev 18:19) and childlessness normally led to divorce (Keener 1991a:75). Singleness is difficult for many people in Western society, but to be a unmarriageable woman in first-century Jewish Palestine must have often been terrifying.
The stigma of childlessness (compare Lk 1:24-25; 1 Enoch 98:5), the pain of feeling “left over” and the dilemma of being unable to earn an income yet having neither husband nor children for long-term support would have made this woman’s condition seem almost unbearable.
Yet her desperation also begets confidence that Jesus is an absolutely certain source of her healing. Desperation has driven many of us to a faith that refuses to be deterred.
This woman was undoubtedly more desperate than most of us have been, and she pressed her way to Jesus with the determination of faith, regardless of the consequences.
Jesus Embraces Her Need (9:22) Jesus acknowledged her act as an act of faith. By failing to offer a rebuke, he demonstrated both that the healing came by God’s power and not automatic magic (Hooker 1983:61) and that he was unashamed to be identified with her uncleanness. In the times of our deepest pain, the assurance of God’s presence can provide comfort commensurate with the pain. This is true because the One we claim as Lord embraced our ultimate humiliation and shame on the cross, refusing even a simple narcotic to deaden the pain (27:34).Jesus Has Authority over Death Itself (9:23-26)Death in childhood was a quite frequent occurrence.
Because bodies decomposed rapidly, mourners had to gather quickly (for example, b. Sanhedrin 47a). Later texts probably reflect the earlier view of many religious people in regarding at least two or three mourners (two flutists and one professional mourning woman) as mandatory for the funeral of the poorest person (m. Ketubot 4:4), but a prominent local person like thisruler (v. 18) would probably be able to afford more. (His wealth and status set him in stark contrast to the ailing woman earlier in the story, but his grief has reduced him to the same position of dependence on Jesus.)
“Sleep” was a common euphemism for death in antiquity (like our “passed away”), but Jesus’ contrast between sleep and death here suggests that he wished his hearers to understand that the child was not truly dead. If Jesus intended his assertion that the girl was merely asleep (v. 24) to keep word about her resuscitation from spreading, however, the tactic did not work (v. 26).
Long-term professional mourners would recognize the difference (Harris 1986:309), so they seem not to have believed him.Corpse-uncleanness was the most serious uncleanness anyone could contract, rendering a person unclean for seven days (Num 19:11). Because others could have thought that touching the girl would render him unclean, Jesus showed his exceptional kindness and willingness to get involved by taking the girl’s hand when he raised her up.https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/Embracing-Our-Brokenness



Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore


All of us have dreams at one time or another.  In fact, it is important that we have dreams, otherwise there is no purpose in life.  Dreams give hope and orientation in life.  Those without dreams will perish.  Yet, some of us are living with shattered dreams.  We had great dreams but they did not materialize.  We feel angry with ourselves and with the world.  We try to find scapegoats for our misfortune and failures.  We are even angry with God and have given up on Him.   If we are in this situation, then the scripture readings today provide us with some insights into how we should manage our dreams, even if they are broken dreams.

Where do dreams come from?  Quite often, they come from our parents, as in the case of Jacob’s mother, Rebecca.  She manipulated to have her younger son Jacob to be the one whom the family would be blessed.  She had great dreams for Jacob.  The dreams that come from our parents might be fraught with danger.  Their dreams might not be ours and sometimes not from God either, but their own ambitions or unfulfilled dreams.  Such a person trying to live out the dream of someone else can never be truly happy because that is not his dream.  Even if he could do well, he will never excel and even if he could achieve much, his life remains hollow and empty.

More importantly, the dream should belong to the person himself or herself.  We must dream our own dream.  In the first reading, Jacob had his own dream.  He dreamed that he would be a great leader and a successful businessman.  He would own much land and would be the father of many descendants.  He dreamt the Lord saying to him, “I will give to you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants shall be like the specks of dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.”

Whilst it is important that we dream, at the end of the day, we must make sure that our dreams are aligned with the dreams of God for us.  If our dreams are not aligned with His dreams, we might be chasing the wrong things in life; ambition, power, wealth, glory and status.  If that were the case, we might never really be happy.  So we must make sure that our dream is also God’s dream as in the case of Jacob, for the Lord promised him, “Be sure that I am with you; I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land, for I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.” So the first thing we need to do is to ascertain if our dreams are from God.

Once we have ascertained that our dreams are aligned with God’s, we need to consider how to realize our dreams.   The mistake of Jacob was that instead of following the ways of God, he took matters into his own hands.  He used unscrupulous means to get things done.  He first connived with his mother to cheat Isaac into taking away the birthright of Esau.  That was his first mistake.  Then later on, we read that he cheated Laban of his flock in a cleverly planned scheme whereby he agreed with Laban that all the dotted or striped animals would belong to him; and the rest to Laban as a payment for his salary.   Laban did not know that Jacob would get the animals to mate in such a way that the offspring become marked.   Truly, many of us are in bad shape and get ourselves into trouble because we use worldly and dishonest means to realize our dreams.  We cheat, we steal, we betray and we even make use of our loved ones and friends to the extent of destroying their lives.

The lesson we can learn from this is that when we cheat and deceive people, we should expect to be cheated in return, just like Laban cheated Jacob of Rachel by giving him the hand of Leah instead.  Dishonesty begets dishonesty.  Evil brings evil.  Again by wanting things his way, by living a sinful life, and by not treating his first wife Leah well, his favourite second wife Rachel was unable to conceive initially, whereas the former could.  Truly, those who do wrong will ultimately sow seeds of self-destruction and attract evil into their lives.  If we are not careful, we will end up destroying our dreams through deceit.

But what if our dreams are already shattered? What must we do?  Are we hopeless?  Is that the end of us?  No, the scripture readings tell us that God is in charge.  He is in control.  He writes straight in crooked lines. He can restore the dead back to life.  This was precisely what Jesus did in the Gospel.  The synagogue’s official whose daughter was dead was raised back to life by our Lord.  Nothing is impossible for God.  If He could raise up the little girl, He could repair our wounds, heal our scars, rebuild our dreams and give us a new lease of life.  The Lord is our life-giver.  This is true for the woman who was suffering from bleeding.  She was desperate like many of us.  She could not find any cure for her long illness.  She was suffering not just physically but emotionally.  Because of her bleeding, she was considered unclean and therefore alienated and rejected.  She was too ashamed even to let Jesus know of her illness, just like many of us who have kept all our dark secrets to ourselves, afraid to tell anyone for fear of shame and rejection.  But she was suffering silently like many of us because of guilt and fear.  So it was truly unbearable for her.  Unlike the little girl who died, she was going through a living death.

What is needed then, if we want our lives to be restored and our dreams rebuilt?  We must have faith in Him. We need to have the faith of the official who called Jesus to come even though his daughter was already dead.  We need to have the faith of the woman with the hemorrhage whose faith was even greater.  She did not even ask Jesus to heal her but secretly touched the fringe of the cloak of our Lord.  And she was healed instantly. “Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’  And from that moment the women was well again.”  Like Jacob, we must also claim in faith that our prayers would be answered.  Jacob made his pledge to the Lord too that when he became successful and returned himself safely, “Then the Lord shall be my God.  This stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.”

This is what the psalmist assures us when we place all our trust and hope in Him because He protects those who love Him.  He prayed, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty says to the Lord: ‘My refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!’ It is he who will free you from the snare of the fowler who seeks to destroy you; he will conceal you with his pinions and under his wings you will find refuge. Since he clings to me in love, I will free him; protect him for he knows my name.” So let us not behave like the unbelievers who were skeptical that Jesus could raise the little girl back to life.  They even laughed at Jesus, thinking it was totally absurd that He could do anything.   For God, nothing is impossible because Jesus, in raising the little girl back to life, demonstrates that He is the Resurrection and the Life; the Lord of the living. 

Secondly, we need to acknowledge and confess our sins and fears.  Jesus had to call her out so that she no longer had to hide in shame.  Allowing her to confess what she did was the only way to heal her of her fears and break free from her past.  Indeed, confession and counselling are important instruments of God’s grace to heal us.   If we continue to hide our fears, anger, weaknesses and sins, then we can never be healed.  So long as we do not name the demons, we have no power of the demons in us.  But the moment we name the demons controlling our lives, especially those of us who suffer from all kinds of addiction, whether drugs, gambling, alcohol or pornography, or anger or greed, then the Lord will give us the grace to break free of our bondages. 

Thirdly, we must cooperate with His grace. We read in the bible that Jacob was a hardworking man; talented, resourceful and proactive.  Indeed, he was singular minded in seeking to realize his dream.  This explains why Laban his uncle want him to work for him and sought to retain his services for as long as he could.  Later on, we read that because of Jacob, the business grew and the flocks multiplied and increased greatly.   Then when he fell in love with Rachel, he asked for her hand in marriage but was told to work for seven years before he could marry her.  And indeed, he waited for seven years.  He worked hard and Laban his uncle was impressed by him.  But when the time came, instead of giving him Rachel, he gave him Leah his elder daughter instead.  He made him promise to work for him for another seven years if he wanted to have Rachel as his wife.  To this condition, he agreed.  He married Rachel the following week and fulfilled his contract for another seven years of labour.  Nothing could deter Jacob from achieving his dream.   He was ready for hard work and was a person totally committed to his goal.  That was why he became such a great businessman.

So let us in faith and trust, have confidence in the Lord. Let us bring our dreams to the Lord.  If it is His dream for us, He will make all things happen. We only need to cooperate with His grace, doing what we can and He will do the rest.  At the end of the day, it is not hard work alone that achieves success but the grace of God.  We can only do so much but God must supply the grace, the opportunities and the people to help us.  If we trust in Him and seek to build our dreams in Him, the dream of serving His people and giving hope and life to others, He will certainly empower us and bring success to the work of our hands.  If our dreams are shattered, it is because He wants to rebuild our dreams so that our dreams are no longer to serve ourselves and for our glory, but because He wants to use us to bless His people.

Additional reading ideas:



God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!


Japan and China Look To Develop More Urban Railways in Asia

July 5, 2015

Thailand and Japan agreed on Saturday to develop the Dawei special economic zone in Myanmar and two train lines in Thailand including a high-speed train linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

The Yomiuri Shimbun; July 05, 2015

By Takahiro Tsujimoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

BANGKOK — Projects to construct and extend urban railways, an indispensable mode of transportation in major cities, are being planned throughout Southeast Asia.

Hopes are high that subways, elevated railways and other urban rail systems will ease the traffic congestion plaguing metropolises that have seen population growth as a byproduct of economic development.

Expansion opportunities abound for Japanese firms, given the nation’s outstanding reputation for safety and precision in the field, but Chinese companies have entered the race in recent years and are quickly catching up.

In the north of Bangkok, construction of Bang Sue MRT Station is under way at the former site of a 200-hectare cargo terminal. The anticipated opening date is 2019.

The station is a part of a 26.3-kilometer-long Red Line elevated railway project that has an expected total price tag of more than ¥370 billion. It will be connected to a separate high-speed railway that is expected to employ Shinkansen technology and a railway linking two suburban airports.

With help of local general contractors, international consulting firm Nippon Koei Co. is overseeing the construction. “We actually hope to develop an area like Shinjuku,” said Toshimasa Kiuchi, a senior adviser at the company.

The Thai government plans to extend Bangkok’s urban railways to 515 kilometers in total by 2029, a big increase from roughly 85 kilometers at present. The Red Line is part of that overall plan. Trains account for only 6 percent of Bangkok’s use of public transit, far below Seoul’s 51 percent and Hong Kong’s 46 percent. The Thai government hopes to raise the figure to at least 40 percent.

Thai Finance Minister Sommai Phasee has stressed the importance of urban railways that make it easier to commute within the city and end traffic jams by providing connections to the suburbs. According to Phasee, such systems are indispensable for accelerating economic development and growth.

Technological advantages

Many Japanese companies are already involved in the construction of urban railways in Southeast Asia. For a new line scheduled to open partially in 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, an underground section is being built by Shimizu Corp. and Mazda Corp. Sumitomo Corp. and local general contractors are handling the portion above the ground.

“Japanese firms excel at building underground tunnels in urban areas where old buildings remain,” explained Toshiyuki Sarashina, deputy director of Shimizu’s Hanoi office. The Vietnamese side has given Japan high marks in this respect.

In Jakarta, two subway lines are set to be constructed with Japanese financial assistance. Japanese companies earn high marks for the quality of their work, but that work is expensive, according to Surapong Laoha-Unya, chief executive officer of the Bangkok Mass Transit System Public Co., which operates the capital’s elevated railways.

In Bangkok, Japanese firms were asked to lead part of the urban railway construction, but German and Chinese companies were tasked with building the cars and train operation systems. The Japanese companies involved — Marubeni Corp., Toshiba Corp. and East Japan Railway Co. — finally received orders for the production of cars and other manufactured products for the Purple Line scheduled to open in 2016.

The total cost of building a railway can run as high as several hundred billion yen. There is fierce international competition to win contracts for such projects in major Asian cities.

China has been elevating its profile, particularly in the field of maintenance and infrastructure improvement. But unlike the Japanese government and firms, China has been accused of overlooking laws and environmental protection standards. Some countries appreciate the Chinese way of doing business, because “their work is fast and inexpensive,” according to a source from the Thai construction industry.

Launched in June after a merger of two companies, China’s state-run automaker is by far the world’s largest firm in the industry.

A signing ceremony took place last Monday for the founding of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is expected to start operations within the year.

“After the bank launches, China will get more aggressive and competition to win infrastructure development contracts in Southeast Asia will become even more intense,” a Japanese government source said.

Larger chart:


U.S. influence shrinks in Myanmar, Thailand

July 5, 2015


By Matthew Pennington / The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A legislative victory on trade last week has given a vital boost to President Barack Obama’s effort to deepen U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. His administration also navigated worrying tensions with China by stressing at high-level talks in Washington how the two powers can cooperate on issues of global concern, like climate change.

But there was sobering news from Asia with implications for U.S. policymakers.

In Myanmar, where the United States has been a champion of democratic reforms, parliament rejected constitutional changes to dilute the military’s role in politics. The legislature also blocked the prospect of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi contesting for the presidency in crucial November elections.

China’s territorial ambitions have become a source of growing acrimony with its neighbors and the United States. On Friday, Philippine officials said China was pressing ahead with construction of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, a massive land reclamation project Beijing had said would soon end.

And in Thailand, America’s oldest ally in Asia, there were further signs that the military junta is tightening its grip after a year in power. The timetable for free elections remains uncertain, meaning the U.S. relationship with Thailand will continue to be strained, even as the United States prepares to fill its ambassadorial vacancy there.

The tapestry of concerns shows that Obama’s strategic mission in Asia is a complex one. Since his first term, his administration has sought to increase U.S. diplomatic, security and commercial ties there.

That mission, and the president’s legacy, got an important boost with the congressional approval last week of “fast-track” authority enhancing Obama’s ability to negotiate trade deals.

That paves the way for the United States and 11 other nations to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main economic element of his so-called “pivot” strategy to Asia. Fast track enables the president to present a negotiated deal that lawmakers can approve or reject but not amend, a necessity if the market-opening deal is to gain eventual ratification.

It was a remarkable turnaround. Just two weeks ago, Obama’s own Democratic Party had dealt him an embarrassing defeat on fast track. Now trade experts believe Obama’s negotiators could finish the deal with the other nations by early autumn and that Congress could vote on it by year’s end. That would quell perceptions that the United States is allowing China, the main trading partner for most of Asia, to set the region’s international economic agenda.

But far from Washington, a marquee achievement in the administration’s push to expand American influence in Southeast Asia suffered a setback.

Myanmar’s parliament, where the military retains a heavy influence and is guaranteed one-quarter of the seats, voted Thursday against ending the military’s veto power on constitutional amendments and changing the rule that stands in the way of Suu Kyi completing a Mandela-like transition from political prisoner to national leader.

Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar. The country’s shift from repressive military rule and opening to the West reflects his administration’s willingness to reach out former foes, and has been held up as an example that other repressive governments could follow.

But the failure to reform the junta-era Constitution before the election is likely to intensify criticism of U.S. haste in lifting sanctions against Myanmar, where international concern has also grown over persecution of minority Muslims that has spawned a regional refugee crisis.

Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley and Republican Rep. Steve Chabot said in a joint statement that the military’s scotching of constitutional reform “solidifies concerns that the country’s upcoming elections cannot be free, fair or credible.”

In Thailand, meanwhile, the junta canceled an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok, where a human rights group had wanted to launch a report about Vietnam.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin told a Senate hearing his “patience is running thin” on Thailand holding elections as lawmakers considered the nominee to fill the position of ambassador, vacant since November. The nominee, Glyn Davies, said “job one” would be to urge a return to democracy and breaking the cycle of periodic military coups.



President Obama kisses Myanmar democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit there. One wonders if there is any gain for being a friend to America there days. Or is this the “kiss of death”?

President Obama with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Thailand in November 2012.

The vital role of academic freedom in creating a world-class university

July 5, 2015

William Tierney and Gerard Postiglione say if scholars and scientists are not free to pursue the truth, it can have a devastating effect

By William Tierney and Gerard Postiglione

The international race to have a “world-class university” in Hong Kong has been in full swing for more than a decade. Whether you use the QS ranking, Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, or the UK’s Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the vast majority of the top 100 are in the US and Europe, with the former having the lion’s share of the top 25. Not surprisingly, other countries are trying to ape what they think of as the “American model”.

Many observers think fiscal and organisational structures enable universities to be world class. Some of the best universities – Harvard, Stanford, the University of Southern California – are private and do not rely on government largesse. Even so-called state universities in the US get little funding from government any more. The implication for other countries is that their universities should be more entrepreneurial. Universities in many countries have begun to sing the praises of entrepreneurialism as never before.

Others look at private philanthropy in endowing positions for academic staff and erecting buildings on America’s campuses. Of consequence, many aspiring universities have begun to create or expand their development offices. The University of Hong Kong’s medical school accepted its renaming as the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine. Many libraries at China’s universities are named after Run Run Shaw.

Central governments also have a role. Federal spending on the research infrastructure of America’s best universities contributes to their excellence. The result is that other governments, including Saudi Arabia and China, now invest heavily in building facilities and providing the funds to hire academic staff so that some of their universities might be considered world class in research.

US universities are not consistently atop the world rankings because of their funding streams or organisational models, but rather their ability to drive excellence in teaching and research. The role of academic freedom cannot be underestimated, as it allows professors to speak their minds, search for truth and not worry that they will face sanctions in their work. Eliminate that and US universities drop in the world rankings.

Before the end of the 19th century, Harvard University’s Charles Eliot counselled John D. Rockefeller that 200 years and US$50 million (about US1.4 billion in today’s money) would be required to create a world-class institution. After the turn of the century, and with Rockefeller’s US$50 million-plus, the University of Chicago needed only 20 years to attain top standing. At the same time, however, the idea of academic freedom became enshrined as the raison d’être of academic life in the US, and protected by a system of academic tenure. Shared governance came about to ensure that academic freedom remained a core value of the university. By 1960, virtually every university in America offered tenure, shared governance and a commitment to academic freedom as its core value.

Recently, the state legislature of Wisconsin voted to eliminate tenure and reduce shared governance at the University of Wisconsin – ranked 29th in the world in the Times’ rankings. At an emergency meeting of its university senate, hundreds of academic staff in attendance signed a statement that protects academic freedom. Meanwhile, other universities that espouse a commitment to shared governance, tenure and academic freedom are perched to poach Wisconsin’s faculty.

Wisconsin is not an isolated example. A new special report on the Index on Censorship offe. Academics in Turkey are forbidden to write this sort of article. In Ireland and Britain, the rise of corporate research threatens the objectivity of a scholar’s work. China has taken issue with Western values in college textbooks. At the University of Illinois in the US, a job offer to a scholar was rescinded based on tweets he had sent about the situation in the Middle East.

Challenges to Hong Kong’s universities are becoming more complex in an increasingly divided society. Never before has Hong Kong’s leading university been so hog-tied. The hold-up in appointing a vice-president leaves the senior management team and the university at a serious disadvantage. The outlook for future council business will be of increasing interest with a probable new chair appointee who recently berated the university’s academics and, as education minister, proposed merging two University Grants Committee institutions prior to the row over alleged government interference in academic freedom.

Some believe there are valid arguments to restrict academic freedom. However, if the goal is to create a world-class university, then there is no better way to compromise the integrity of the institution than to create an atmosphere that promotes self-censorship. Just as Lehman Brothers placed its principles at risk, resulting in a freefall that presaged a global economic meltdown, a leading university can bring down a system of higher education if it compromises core academic values for economic or political gain. A change of atmosphere carries potential risks for a university that has consistently been in the world’s top 50. Considered an oak of academic freedom in Asia, HKU’s situation will have implications beyond the Pokfulam Road campus.

A 2001 World Bank report noted that Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s rocket rise to world-class standing after it opened in 1991 could not have occurred without providing academic freedom to attract and retain top scientists. Academic freedom is a necessary condition for excellence but it requires a sustained commitment by all those who share in the governance of university. The unfettered search for truth by scholars and scientists is essential for excellence in the world’s top 25 universities.

William G. Tierney is university professor and director of the Pullias Centre for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. He is a visiting research professor at The University of Hong Kong. Gerard A. Postiglione is associate dean in the Faculty of Education at HKU


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,094 other followers