Archive for January, 2015

Mounting concerns over press freedom in Hong Kong

January 31, 2015

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By Christoph Ricking

Unlike mainland China, the city of Hong Kong enjoys a free press. But journalists in the financial hub are feeling increasingly pressurized by Beijing, especially when it comes to their coverage of the “Occupy” movement.

While journalists in Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou fear the reaction of the government for critical reporting, their colleagues in Hong Kong can conduct their work with a relatively high degree of press freedom. But these freedoms now seem to be under attack, according to new reports from Chinese journalists and international organizations alike.

A ‘watershed year’

The state of press freedom in Hong Kong is in real danger, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Three journalists, who wished to remain anonymous in the report due to fears of reprisals, said 2014 was a “watershed year” for press freedom in the city. The report states that a lack of editorial independence prevails in the firmer British colony, adding that the influence from Beijing “renders one speechless, as it is simply raw and undisguised.”

“Some Hong Kong journalists have received direct and indirect threats from mainland Chinese,” said Seranade Woo, a program director at IFJ. Especially since the pro-democracy “Occupy” movement gained momentum last fall, the situation of the media in the city has become “deeply concerning.”

‘Tea’ with state security

Journalists have received threatening phone calls, says Woo. Some reporters were even invited to have tea and snacks with mainland Chinese security authorities. Woo also said that during these “tea” meetings,” journalists were either asked to write very little or nothing at all about the “Occupy” movement or were questioned about how they were planning to cover the issue. Many were also asked to report more often and in-depth about the rival movement, widely regarded to be pro-Beijing.

In addition, the IJF observed that media companies were placed under extreme economic pressure from Beijing during this time. Small newspapers and media companies were particularly affected. According to Woo, “important advertisers suddenly jumped ship. This could be linked to the fact that these independent media outlets did not want to follow the ‘directive’ from Beijing.”

Acts of intimidation

Hong Kong journalist Annie Cheung was also invited to ‘tea.’ Security officials from the mainland made a special trip to Hong Kong just to meet with her, says Cheung. “As a rule, they threaten you with everything that is important to you as a journalist, such as not receiving entry permits, or telling media enterprises that they should no longer expect to receive business partners from the mainland.”

These intimidation practices seem to pay off for Chinese authorities. “Last year’s coverage of the ‘Occupy’ movement is the best example for how un-critical and un-free the Hong Kong Press has become,” says Cheung. “This one-sided reporting, specifically of the rival movement, is clearly linked to Beijing’s influence.” Only a few media sources remain who dare to support the “Occupy” movement, Cheung added.

Attacked with meat cleaver

On the Reporter’s Without Border’s Press Freedom Index, the former British colony was still in 18th place in 2002 – only one position behind the United States. In 2014, Hong Kong ranked 61 in the index – this time, next to Mauritania and Senegal. Even before the start of the Occupy protests, journalists were already being attacked.

Reporter Kevin Lau was seriously injured after being attacked with a meat cleaver in February of last year, sparking an outcry and demonstrations throughout Hong Kong. As the former chief editor of the liberal newspaper, “Ming Pao,” the assault on Lau is seen by many as an attack on the freedom of the press as well. “Among the journalists of Hong Kong, he is someone who doesn’t mince words and doesn’t bend to the pressure of media censorship,” says Woo. “This (attack) could not have been a coincidence.”

A ‘deplorable’ status

In mainland China, the press has also fallen under more pressure in recent years. “Since Xi Jinping became the President of China in 2013, the situation has consistently deteriorated,” writes the IJF in its report, adding that freedom of speech and of the press were in “deplorable” conditions as of 2014.

Moreover, Chinese authorities also tried to influence local editorial bases of international media outlets. German journalist, Angela Köckritz, witnessed this first hand. After reporting on the Hong Kong protests as a China correspondent for the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit,” Köckritz’s Chinese assistant, Zhang Miao, was arrested. Then Köckritz herself was threatened so severely that she left China as quickly as she could. Her assistant Zhang Miao is behind bars.

China’s censors recently launched a new campaign which led to a massive disruption of Virtual Private Network connections (VPN). Many people in China use these services to bypass the so-called “Great Firewall” to access blocked websites. Due to these VPN disruptions, it is nearly impossible for Internet users in the country to access Facebook, Twitter, and other blocked websites.

http://www.dw.de/mounting-concerns-over-press-freedom-in-hong-kong/a-18226147

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After supporting Hong Kong’s democracy movement, actor cut from Chinese film

January 31, 2015

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Taipei, Jan. 31 (CNA) Scenes featuring Hong Kong actor Chapman To (杜汶澤) in a new mainland Chinese film were left on the cutting room floor before the movie hit cinemas, replacing the actor who gave vocal support to pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong with a Chinese actor.

“Various reasons” were cited for the last-minute replacement in the movie “Impossible” (不可思異) in a statement posted on the film’s official blog Friday.

Filming for the movie began in September 2013 which starred Chinese actor Shen He (小瀋陽) and others.

After production wrapped last year, the movie was scheduled to hit cinemas around China in early 2015, but the release was later pushed back to mid-year.

In high-profile exchanges on the Internet, To had engaged in a war of words with Chinese Web users over his support for the Occupy Central movement last year in Hong Kong to demanded universal suffrage for the semi-autonomous region.

Prior to the news that To’s scenes would be refilmed with another actor, some Chinese moviegoers had said they would boycott any film with the Hong Kong actor in it because of his politics.

In response to criticism by Chinese netizens, To said in a Jan. 23 post on his Facebook page that if Hong Kong movies were going on the decline, “I hope I have a part in the last one made.”

(By Charles Kang and Elaine Hou)
ENDITEM/WH

http://focustaiwan.tw/news/aeas/201501310018.aspx

As Muslim Uighurs Flee, China Sees Jihad Risk

January 31, 2015

As Homeland Grows Violent, Some Uighurs Seek Haven in Turkey

By Jeremy Page and Emre Peker
The Wall Street Journal

KAYSERI, Turkey—In hindsight, it was a soccer match that kindled Mehmet’s hatred of Chinese rule and set him on the path to exile.

In 2002, Mehmet was at university in Xinjiang, the northwest corner of China that is home to his Uighur ethnic group and the source of a wave of deadly violence in the past two years. He and some other Uighurs decided to support Turkey in the soccer World Cup, he said.

Most Uighurs are Muslim, speak a Turkic language and consider themselves part of a broad family of ethnic Turks.

But students from China’s ethnic Han majority were offended, Mehmet said. A fight erupted, leading university authorities to expel six of his friends.

So began a political awakening that led Mehmet to a prison labor camp in Xinjiang and ultimately to Turkey, following a perilous two-month voyage, mostly without a passport, through Central and Southeast Asia.

Mehmet is among hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) who have fled China in recent years, often heading for Turkey via Thailand and Malaysia, say Uighur migrants, activists and government officials from countries along that route.

Their flight is presenting China with many of the same fears that have plagued Western nations as they try to prevent their Muslim nationals from being radicalized or trained to fight overseas.

Fearing Uighur separatists are adopting the ideology and tactics of jihadists, China wants to shut down what state media call the “underground railway,” which Beijing says Uighurs are using to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or to escape after committing crimes.

China blamed one attack—a mass knifing at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming in March that killed 29 civilians—on Xinjiang separatists trying to flee to Southeast Asia. Beijing has often accused Uighur militants of training in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and fears that those fleeing abroad could return to launch fresh attacks or recruit others via the Internet.

Uighur groups like the World Uyghur Congress say they don’t condone such attacks. They and other human-rights groups say China exaggerates risks posed by fleeing Uighurs and that most are escaping brutal policing and systematic discrimination in Xinjiang. Chinese officials deny they discriminate against Uighurs and say Beijing’s policies bring stability to Xinjiang.

Few Uighurs will discuss the issue publicly in Xinjiang, where police surveillance is strong. Those outside China resist speaking openly, fearing deportation or reprisals against relatives back home.

Mehmet said he changed his name to avoid reprisals. A fluent Mandarin speaker in his 30s who once worked for a state-owned company, he said he rejects jihadist ideology but admitted to meeting in Turkey with a pan-Islamist group banned in China and some other countries.

He made no secret of wanting to resist Chinese rule. “If somebody gave me a gun, I would fight,” he said, sitting outside a Uighur activist center in the central-Turkish city of Kayseri. “China only gives us two options—either we must be exactly like them, or we will be destroyed.”

Uighur underground railroad

Over the past year, Beijing has increased pressure on foreign governments to help track Uighur militants, telling some there are roughly 300 Chinese Uighurs fighting with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, say people briefed on those discussions.

China’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to inquiries for this article. Asked about the figure in December, Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news briefing he had no specifics, but “with international terrorists crossing borders, China urges countries to join forces” to combat terrorism.

Malaysia’s Home Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, told reporters on Jan. 21 that a Chinese vice minister of public security told him some Chinese fighting with Islamic State had transited Malaysia.

Other governments haven’t publicly corroborated China’s assertions, although the Iraqi defense ministry published a photograph in September purportedly showing a captured Chinese militant. Chinese terrorism experts have cited a speech by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi listing China among countries where Muslim rights had been violated.

The issue is particularly delicate in Turkey, which has granted Chinese Uighurs sanctuary since the 1950s as part of a policy to welcome ethnic Turks from Eurasia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once described the Chinese Uighurs’ plight as “genocide” after 2009 ethnic riots in Urumqi.

Turkey has since forged closer commercial and military ties with China. Chinese firms have won big deals to build rail lines in Turkey and launch its intelligence satellite.

Turkish officials say China’s influence hasn’t eroded their commitment to help Uighurs on humanitarian grounds. They also say Turkey is ready to help China’s counterterrorism efforts, just as it cooperates with Western governments to stem the flow of Western jihadists through Turkey to Syria and Iraq.

“It’s a very sensitive issue and public opinion plays a critical role,” said a Turkish official familiar with negotiations on the subject. “We don’t have a specific policy, encouraging Uighurs to come here. Of course, if someone shows up at our doors, we won’t turn them away.”

Asked if there was evidence of Uighurs joining Islamic State through Turkey, the official leafed through a list of countries that provided names of concern. China hadn’t provided any, he said.

Some Uighurs escape China via an “underground railway” through Southeast Asia to Turkey. Here, families suspected of being Uighurs fleeing China rest after being detained by authorities in Thailand. Photo: Reuters

In recent weeks, though, tensions between China and Turkey have burst into the open. In mid-January, Turkey’s foreign ministry said 10 Turkish nationals faced trial in China on allegations they helped people illegally cross borders or sold travel documents. The ministry didn’t say who was being assisted, but China’s state-run Global Times said they were Uighurs.

That announcement followed demonstrations in Turkey calling on the Ankara government to protect Uighurs in China.

Chinese and Turkish officials have clashed over roughly 300 suspected Uighurs detained in Thailand since March, whom Thai police said they found hiding on a rubber plantation.

Beijing has pressed Thailand to return the suspected Uighurs, who have no identification documents but claim Turkish descent and ask to go to Turkey, say people involved in those discussions. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in November said publicly that Turkey informed Thailand it wished to take them in.

China’s foreign ministry, responding to a question about Mr. Cavusoglu’s statement, said: “We urge Turkey to immediately stop interfering in the handling of the relevant case” and “not to send mistaken signals to the outside world that connive in, and even support, illegal immigration activities.”

Sek Wannamethee a Thai-foreign-ministry spokesman, said his government knew the Chinese and Turkish positions but needed time to identify the detainees—men, women and children.

China has long controlled foreign travel by Uighurs, some of whom have for decades waged low-level, but often violent, resistance against Chinese rule in their homeland, which they call East Turkestan.

Uighurs fleeing Xinjiang used to cross illegally into Central Asia. That has become harder as China has boosted cooperation with Central Asian nations, Chinese experts and Uighur activists say.

Beijing tightened restrictions following deadly attacks that indicate a change in tactics by separatists, including hitting civilian targets outside Xinjiang and incorporating jihadist imagery.

China in May launched a counterterrorism campaign in Xinjiang, where hundreds have been arrested, 21 executed and 12 more sentenced to death, according to state-media reports. As a result, growing numbers of Uighurs are fleeing to Southeast Asia, say Uighur activists, Chinese experts and Western rights campaigners.

On Jan. 19, Chinese state media said police shot dead two Uighurs and arrested another who “violently resisted arrest” while trying to illegally enter Vietnam. Rights groups and Uighur activists say it is possible that some attack participants escape this way but that most migrants appear to be fleeing the violence or China’s response.

Many obtain Turkish travel documents—fake or legal—in Thailand or Malaysia, say Uighur migrants and officials along the route.

In September, Indonesian authorities said they arrested four men believed to be Uighurs with fake Turkish passports allegedly trying to link with an Islamic militant leader. The men’s lawyer said they are in detention in Indonesia and deny all charges.

Some Southeast Asian nations have deported Uighurs to China. Cambodia announced deportations in 2009 of Uighurs it said entered illegally. Malaysian police say they have deported to China at least 18 suspected Uighur militants.

“Most of the individuals we know about who have been sent back from a wide variety of countries in recent years have effectively, alarmingly simply vanished into the notoriously abusive vortex of Xinjiang’s judicial system,” said Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Rights Watch.

China’s foreign ministry has said in news conferences that Uighur deportees to China were criminal suspects.

Ethnic Uighurs like these men in Kayseri, Turkey, consider themselves part of a broad family of Turkic peoples and use the name East Turkestan (Dogu Turkistan in Turkish) for the mostly Muslim minority’s homeland in China’s Xinjiang region. Photo: Jeremy Page/The Wall Street Journal

Those who make it to Turkey often settle in Uighur communities in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu neighborhood or in Kayseri, where Turkish authorities settled a group of Chinese Uighurs who escaped via Afghanistan in 1965.

An elderly Uighur in Zeytinburnu said that after years in prison in Xinjiang for separatist activities, he escaped via Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia in 2013. He flew to Turkey after obtaining a Turkish travel document in Malaysia for about 5,000 yuan ($800).

Some Uighurs—mostly women—reach Turkey legally after receiving passports in China. A Uighur in Kayseri said she flew from China in 2014 to seek fertility treatment but dared not return, as her husband was detained in Xinjiang when he applied for a passport to join her.

Mehmet, who reached Kayseri, said that after the 2002 soccer-match fight he began spending more time looking at websites about Uighur issues.

After graduation, he joined a state-owned company—a coveted job in Xinjiang—but became disillusioned that few Uighurs were employed there. And he resented pressure to drink with prospective business partners, because Islam forbids alcohol consumption.

By the time of the 2009 Urumqi riots, he felt such pent-up anger that he joined the violence. He wouldn’t say what he did but said he was jailed for three years.

He shared a prison cell with ethnic-Han members of Falun Gong, the spiritual group banned in China. “There, I realized that not all Han people were bad, and that many of them suffer in the same ways that Uighurs do,” concluding his only option was to flee China.

In 2013, after prison, he borrowed from friends and family to fund his escape. He had no passport, so friends smuggled him into Kyrgyzstan. From there, he said, a people-smuggling network took him through Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.

He crossed borders in vehicles, on foot and by boat over nine weeks. “Sometimes we had to run across borders at night, sometimes high in the mountains.”

In Malaysia, he obtained a Turkish travel document via an ethnic-Chinese agent. He didn’t know if it was genuine, but it got him into Turkey. He spent some 90,000 yuan (just under $15,000), paying a different person for each leg.

He said he rents a room with another Uighur and does odd jobs in a restaurant while considering his next move. He said he doesn’t believe in jihad but could understand why some do. “Uighurs are looking for a savior,” he said.

In Turkey, he said, he attended a meeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the pan-Islamic group banned in China. He left disillusioned after they said they couldn’t provide arms to Uighur separatists.

Hizb ut-Tahrir advocates an Islamic caliphate but only sanctions peaceful means, said Mahmut Kar, the organization’s spokesman in Turkey. The group is active in Xinjiang, he said, but “we have not encountered Uighur Muslims who took refuge in Turkey and sought support for an armed struggle against China, or to go to Syria and Iraq.”

Mehmet said he has spoken online with Uighurs in Turkey who want to join Islamic State but said he wants to head to Europe to work for the Uighur cause.

“Why would I risk my life fighting in Syria or Iraq?” he asked. “If I am going to fight, I want to fight for East Turkestan.”

—Celine Fernandez in Kuala Lumpur, Warangkana Chomchuen in Bangkok and I Made Sentana in Jakarta contributed to this article.

Write to Jeremy Page at jeremy.page@wsj.com and Emre Peker at emre.peker@wsj.com

 

Vietnam Is Becoming the ‘New China’ With Foreign Manufacturers

January 31, 2015

By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI, Taiwan (TheStreet) — Vietnam may still be communist, but the Southest Asian country is all about business.

Helped by low costs and an eager government,  Vietnam is taking over China’s role as Asia’s hotspot for foreign investment in manufacturing.

While China’s economy slows and labor becomes more expensive, Vietnam is becoming to go-to place for manufacturing, making cars for Ford (FGet Report) and Toyota Motor (TMGet Report)Offshore capital is expanding now into high-value, high-tech assembly. Hanoi is working on rules to bring in more of it.

Chinese officials, worried about pollution and dependence on foreign capital, are promoting private domestic investment and consumer spending instead.

“The Vietnamese government welcomes most sectors with open arms and market entry, so licensing and operating have become much simpler than in China,” says Ralf Matthaes, partner in the Ho Chi Minh City-based investment advisory Infocus Consultants.

There’s now significant foreign investment in tech in Vietnam. PC processor icon Intel’s (INTCGet Report) has operated a $1 billion test and assembly plant in Ho Chi Minh City since 2010. Vietnam’s largest foreign investor, Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) , has made an $11 billion investment in production there. Apple (AAPLGet Report)   contractor Hon Hai Precision (HNHPF) makes smartphone parts in Vietnam, as well.

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co

China’s government says Chinese economic growth fell to 7.4% in 2014, a 24-year low, partly on a modest 8.3% increase in industrial production, down from 9.7% a year earlier. The Chinese economy will grow 7.1% this year, the World Bank forecasts.

China still wildly outranks Vietnam in terms of total foreign direct investment. Its economy of $10.4 trillion, compared to Vietnam’s of about $170 billion, had pulled in foreign direct investment of $119.6 billion last year. But that’s up less than 2% over 2013.

Officials in Beijing are drafting a new foreign direct investment law to offer offshore projects more equal treatment alongside domestic peers. The law might scrap case-by-case reviews of foreign projects and let them into China with fewer restrictions, the country’s state-run media say.

But rising wages and land prices over the past five years have frustrated foreign investors looking to cut costs in China, while skittish consumer demand challenges companies trying to sell their products for long-term profit despite a massive Chinese population.

Vietnam’s foreign direct investment rose 60% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2014, to about $8 billion over those three months, the country’s statistics office says.

http://www.thestreet.com/story/13025186/1/vietnam-is-becoming-the-new-china-with-foreign-manufacturers.html

Must Read: 5 Semiconductor Stocks Delivering Big Shareholder Profits Now

 

China Sends Unmistakable Message to the U.S. on Hong Kong: Back Off

January 31, 2015
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China has listed Hong Kong as one of its “core interests” in an apparent warning to Washington in the aftermath of last year’s pro-democracy protests, local media reported Thursday.
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Citing China’s PLA Daily, the newspaper of the People’s Liberation Army, the South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong was officially defined as a “core interest” in a meeting this week between top Chinese and U.S. military officers.
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PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff Sun Jianguo and U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers met in Beijing on Tuesday, the report said.
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When listing Beijing’s priorities, Sun mentioned Hong Kong second after Taiwan but before the East and South China Seas and cyber security, the Daily said.
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“The U.S. should earnestly respect China’s core interests and key concerns,” Sun was quoted as saying.

Sun’s statement follows repeated claims by mainland Chinese media and Hong Kong officials that “foreign forces” had interfered during the 79-day protest that blocked major roads in the territory.

In November, U.S. President Barack Obama said the U.S. had not been involved in the protests but called for transparent and fair elections in the former British colony.

In 2011, Beijing defined its core interests as national sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity, national unity, social and political stability and sustainable socio-economic development.

Renmin University international relations specialist Jin Canrong told the Post that Sun’s remarks indicated China did not trust the U.S. and believed it was involved in the protests.

Retired PLA Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu was quoted as saying that Beijing was sending a message to the U.S. administration.

“Sun is telling the U.S. to calm down and not to have any illusions about using Hong Kong to stir things up,” Xu told the Post.

Peking University international relations professor Jia Qingguo said: “Any attempt to demand independence is an act to split the nation. Beijing will not allow it and is asking the U.S. not to be involved.”

But Hong Kong legislator Albert Ho said the more Beijing tried to exert control on Hong Kong, the more alienated residents would become.

Under the agreement that paved the way for Beijing to take over Hong Kong from London in 1997, Hongkongers enjoy greater civil liberties than mainland Chinese.

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After 150 years, Confederate submarine’s hull again revealed

January 31, 2015

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A century and a half after it sank and a decade and a half after it was raised, scientists are finally getting a look at the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship.

Conservator Virginie Ternisien works at removing the encrustation from the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley at a conservation lab in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 27, 2015. Scientists say that after six months of work, about 70 percent of the encrusted sand, silt and rust from the outside of the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship has been removed. Scientists hope that when the entire hull is revealed, it will provide the clues as to why the Hunley sank after sinking a Union blockade ship off Charleston, S.C., in 1864.
Conservator Virginie Ternisien works at removing the encrustation from the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley at a conservation lab in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 27, 2015. Scientists say that after six months of work, about 70 percent of the encrusted sand, silt and rust from the outside of the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship has been removed. Scientists hope that when the entire hull is revealed, it will provide the clues as to why the Hunley sank after sinking a Union blockade ship off Charleston, S.C., in 1864. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
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What they find may finally solve the mystery of why the hand-cranked submarine sank during the Civil War.

“It’s like unwrapping a Christmas gift after 15 years. We have been wanting to do this for many years now,” said Paul Mardikian, senior conservator on the Hunley project.

The Hunley sank the Union blockade ship USS Housatonic off Charleston in February 1864 as the South tried to break the Union blockade strangling the Confederacy. But the sub and its eight-man crew never made it back to shore.

The Hunley was discovered off the South Carolina coast in 1995, raised in 2000 and brought to a conservation lab in North Charleston.

It was covered with a hardened gunk of encrusted sand, sediment and rust that scientists call concretion.

Last May, it was finally ready to be bathed in a solution of sodium hydroxide to loosen the encrustation. Then in August, scientists using small air-powered chisels and dental tools began the laborious job of removing the coating.

Now about 70 percent of the outside hull has been revealed.

Mardikian said the exposed hull indeed has revealed some things that may help solve the mystery of the sinking.

“I would have to lie to you if I said we had not, but it’s too early to talk about it yet,” he said. “We have a submarine that is encrypted. It’s like an Enigma machine.”

He said the clues will be studied closely as scientists try to piece together what happened to the 40-foot submarine that night in 1864.

The Hunley had a 16-foot spar tipped with a charge of black powder that was exploded, sinking the Housatonic. After close examination of the spar two years ago, scientists speculated the crew was knocked unconscious by the shock wave of the explosion.

When the Hunley was first raised, scientists speculated the crew may have run out of air before they could crank back to the coast.

After the Hunley was raised, the sand and the silt and the remains of the crew in the interior were removed.

In April 2004, thousands of men in Confederate gray and Union blue walked in a procession with the crew’s coffins four miles from Charleston’s waterfront Battery to Magnolia Cemetery in what has been called the last Confederate funeral.

Related:

Piece of Civil War ironclad brought to surface

What caused the HMS Bounty to go down?

Booty from Blackbeard’s sunken ship: Five huge cannons

Ghostly underwater art gallery breathes new life to sunken ship

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 1, 2015 — Be free of anxieties; Do not be afraid

January 31, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 71

Reading 1 Dt 18:15-20

Moses spoke to all the people, saying:
“A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’
And the LORD said to me, ‘This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.’”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9

R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2 1 Cor 7:32-35

Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Alleluia Mt 4:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light;
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death,
light has arisen.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre) by Tissot

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Gospel Mk 1:21-28

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Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre) by Tissot

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Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

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Homily from the Abbot
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My sisters and brothers in Christ,
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The connection between the first reading today and the Gospel is so very strong. Moses, in the first reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy,tellsthepeople that God Himself will raise up a prophet for them, one who is their own relative and one to whom they should listen. We who follow Jesus come to recognize that He, Jesus, is the fulfillment of this prophecy–and even more than we could have imagined. He is our relative, a human like us in all things except sin. He shares our humanity with us and speaks to us about God. The challenge–and this also comes from Deuteronomy, is to listen to Him and to follow His words.The Gospel of Mark today tells us about Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum. Jesus teaches as one having authority and the people recognize that immediately. Even more, Jesus commands unclean spirits and they obey Him. This scares the people and they are no longer certain that Jesus comes from God. They have become accustomed to a safe practice of their faith and the actions of Jesus begin to challenge their sense of security.Jesus challenges us! Faith in God is not about being secure. Faith in God is about having a living relationship with God, a personal relationship–and because of that relationship, doing the will of God in every aspect of our life. Far too often we hope that if we just do the right things, we can somehow achieve salvation. We need to become acutely aware of the difference between performing actions to appease God and acting out of a deep, personal relationship with the living God.The second reading, from the First Letter to the Corinthians, shows us the advice of Saint Paul. This is advice to people about how to live. Saint Paul wants the followers of Jesus to be free of anxiety and so counsels chaste celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. We know that Saint Paul never imposed chaste celibacy as a requirement. Rather, Saint Paul counsels women and men that chaste celibacy might be a better way to live in order to give one’s energies to the living God. Counsel to others is to help them seek God with all their being. Counsel is to help others live fully because of their personal relationship with God.

The Christian traditional recognizes both chaste celibates and married women and men as saints: those who have followed God as completely as possible in this life. When we read an honest life of a saint, we begin to understand a bit what it means to live out of a deep, personal relationship with God.

God has raised up a prophet for us, Jesus the Christ. God has given us His own Son to be our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is this Jesus who challenges us today to see His presence in our world and to respond with our whole being to that presence. You and I can convert the whole world, if we live from that relationship.

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http://christdesert.org/News/Abbot_s_Homily/

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.Art: Jesus casts out the Devil by Carl Bloch
http://www.carlbloch.com/php/artwork.php?artwork=982
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Commentary on Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28 from Living Space

ON THE PAST TWO SUNDAYS we have seen Jesus baptised, he has announced the meaning and purpose of his work and he has called his first disciples. In today’s Mass we see him beginning that work.

The words of Deuteronomy (First Reading) are being fulfilled. “Yahweh your God will raise up a prophet… from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen.” Jesus has appeared, a Jew of Palestine like all those around him. And he is a prophet. Not in the current sense of someone who can foretell the future but rather as one who speaks the word of God. For that reason, he should be listened to.

A day in the life…

Today’s passage from Mark is really the beginning of a busy day (and night) for Jesus in which are contained, one might say, all the main characteristics of his public life. He joins in public worship, he teaches, he heals, he drives out evil spirits – and he prays privately. There is also the astounded reaction of the ordinary people.

(In Mark’s gospel we find three kinds of people, all of whom react differently to Jesus – his own disciples, the religious leaders, and the ordinary people. Usually, it is only the ordinary people who come off with any credit and insight.)

This first reported day in Jesus’ public life is a Sabbath day. And we find Jesus with his fellow townsmen in the synagogue. It is important for us to realise that Jesus was a practising Jew and he normally observed the requirements of the Jewish faith, as did his disciples even after the resurrection. He never criticised that faith. What he did criticise were what he saw as distortions, hypocrisies and other corrupting elements. Jesus’ message is, as he says himself in Matthew, not an abrogation of the Jewish faith but carrying it to its logical fulfilment (Matthew 5:17).

In the synagogue

The synagogue service was basically a Scripture and prayer service. There was no sacrifice; that was confined to one place, the Temple in Jerusalem. Most Jews very seldom went to the Temple for the simple reason that, for most of them, it was too far away. We see Jesus apparently going there about once a year or, like his compatriots, for some of the major feasts.

However, on every Sabbath (Saturday to us) they went to their local synagogue for common worship and prayer. The service was simple: some prayers, reading from the Scripture (the Hebrew or Old Testament, of course) and someone preached. There were no formal clergy or priests in the synagogue. (Again, these were confined to the Temple; John the Baptist’s father was one of them. It is only when Jesus goes to Jerusalem that he comes in confrontation with them. They are not to be confused with either the Pharisees or the Scribes.)

In the synagogue, then, anyone could be invited to get up and preach. On this particular Sabbath day, Jesus was invited. Perhaps he already had a name as a speaker. In any case, as soon as he opens his mouth the people feel immediately that here is someone who is different.
When the Scribes, the experts in the Law, preached, they were primarily explaining the given meaning of the Jewish Law in the sacred books. But when Jesus spoke it was with ‘authority.’ Somehow the people realised that he was not giving out someone else’s teaching. He was giving out his own. As we hear it in Matthew’s gospel: “You have heard it said … but I say…”

A man possessed

But Jesus not only spoke with authority. He also acted with authority. Right there as he spoke there was a man with an ‘evil spirit.’ What exactly does that mean? Have you ever encountered a person with an ‘evil spirit’? Have you ever met a so-called ‘possessed’ person? We need to remember that in the time of Jesus, people believed that the world was full of spirits – some good, some bad. They were everywhere and could attack people in all kinds of ways. You could even ask that evil spirits attack other people, for instance, people you wanted to take revenge on.

This is by no means a thing of the past. Such beliefs are still very much alive in many parts of the world, not least in parts of Southeast Asia e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines. Even in sophisticated ‘developed’ societies it is often difficult to find someone who will walk calmly through a cemetery in the dark. Amid the glass and steel skyscrapers of Hong Kong and Singapore, how careful people are in choosing a wedding date or how anxious they are about the fung shui, the propitious orientation of their house or office.

In the time of Jesus, if any person was sick, or acted in an ‘abnormal’ way, they were said to have an evil spirit. It was natural to think that people such as epileptics, spastics, mentally disturbed people were the victims of some force that had invaded their bodies. Because of the spirit, people seemed to lose control of their speech and movements. The spirit had taken over. Were these evil spirits real? It is difficult to say. Obviously, some would have a simple medical diagnosis today. But one does meet people in some parts of the world who are convinced that there are forms of possession. The point is that they were healed, made whole again, by Jesus and liberated from their affliction.

The evil spirits of our own day

That there are evil forces in our world today is difficult to deny. Some of the appalling sufferings that people are made to endure by the inhuman behaviour of individuals and groups are hard to explain otherwise. And, while we often look on helpless, somehow we are part of it ourselves.

What is important is that, in the time of Jesus, people really believed in the existence of all kinds of forces. These forces were the source of great and even paralysing fears. What Jesus does is to liberate people from their fears. It was not the evil spirit that was the problem so much as the victim’s fear of that spirit. It is not objective reality that limits our freedom and effectiveness but the way it is seen by us. (Have you ever tried the trick of putting a rubber snake in a friend’s bed and waited for the reaction? What made them scream? The piece of rubber? Or their fear?)

Jesus shows no fear in the face of the spirit in the synagogue. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The man is thrown into convulsions but he is free. And what is really important is that he feels free.

What are our fears? What spirits are we afraid of? What are the things, the persons, the places which prevent us from doing what we really want to do, from being the person we really want to be? It is important that we identify our fears and that we see them within ourselves and not simply blame others for them. Once we recognise them within ourselves, we can ask Jesus to help us drop them. Let us put ourselves under his authority and he will liberate us.

The people in the synagogue are simply astounded. “Here is teaching that is new and with authority behind it. He gives orders even to unclean spirits – and they obey him.” No wonder his name rapidly becomes known all over the countryside. (The rural grapevine works faster than any fax machine!)

Jesus, a man of authority

We can see here how powerfully Mark presents the impact that Jesus makes. His work of salvation has begun. The Kingdom of God is near when he acts like this. People experience the power. But what kind of power is it?

It is the power of authority. The word authority comes from a Latin verb augere, which means to make something increase. Its root can be found in words like ‘authority,’ ‘author.’ Its root is also found in the English verb ‘to wax’ (as the moon ‘waxes’ and wanes).

So real authority is not just, as we often interpret it, having power over people so that we can make them do what we want them to do. Genuine authority is the ability to en-able people, to em-power them. To enable them to transcend themselves, to grow as persons, to be more effective in the development and use of their innate gifts.

Authority as service

This is the kind of authority which Jesus wields. Jesus did not come to rule and control people. He came, he said, not to be served but to serve. He came, above all, to make people free. So that in their freedom, they could generate all the productive and growth energies within them and be alive with the life of God within them. He freed them from all the ‘evil spirits’ of fear, compulsions, narrow self-centredness, anger, resentment, hostility and violence which prevent people from truly enjoying the experience of being alive. “I have come that they may have life, life in abundance.”

How sad it is then that so many people see being faithful to the Christian faith as a burden to be sloughed off so that they can be “free” of oppression and limitation. To what extent is the Church responsible for giving this image which is such a contradiction of the Gospel message?

So, let us all pray today that Jesus, with his growth-inducing authority will be a real source of liberation for us. May he free us from all those spirits which make us deaf, dumb, blind and lame in life – and paralysed by fear.

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http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/OB041/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection.Sequence of the Gospels of the days of this week. Yesterday’s Gospel informed us concerning the first activity of Jesus: he called four persons to form the community with them (Mk 1, 16-10). Today’s Gospel describes the admiration of people before the teaching of Jesus (Mt 1, 21-22) and the first miracle when he expels the devil (Mk 1, 23-28). The Gospel of tomorrow narrates the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1, 29-31), the healing of many sick persons (Mk 1, 32-34) and the prayer of Jesus in an isolated place (Mk 1, 35-39). Mark gathers all these episodes which had been transmitted orally in the communities and he joins them together like bricks of one only wall. In the years 70’s, the year in which he writes, the Communities needed orientation. By describing how Jesus began his activity, Mark indicates what they should do and how, to announce the Good News.

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Mark gives them a catechesis, by telling the Communities the events of the life of Jesus.

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Jesus teaches with authority, differently from the way the Scribes do it. The first thing that the people perceive is the diverse way in which Jesus teaches. It is not so much the content, but rather the way in which he teaches that impresses the people. For this reason, by his different way, Jesus creates a critical conscience in people concerning the religious authority of that time.

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The people perceive, they compare and says: He teaches with authority, in a way different from the way the Scribes do it. The Scribes of that time taught quoting the authority. Jesus does not quote any authority, but he speaks beginning with his experience of God and of his life. His word is rooted in the heart..

You have come to destroy us! In Mark, the first miracle is the expulsion of the devil. Jesus struggles and expels the power of evil which takes possession of persons and alienated them from themselves. The man possessed by the devil shouts: “I know who you are: You are the Holy One of God!” The man repeated the official teaching which presented the Messiah as the “Holy One of God”, that is as a High Priest, or like a King, Judge, Doctor or General.

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Even today also, many people live alienated from themselves, deceived by the power of mass media, means of communication, by propaganda of business. They repeat what they hear others say. They live as slaves of consumerism, oppressed by the power of money, threatened by debtors. Many think that their life is not as it should be if they cannot buy what the propaganda announces and recommends.

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Jesus rebuked the evil spirit: “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The spirit threw the man into convulsions, and with a loud cry went out of him. Jesus restores the person to himself. He gives him back his conscience and his liberty. He makes the person recover his complete judgment (cf. Mk 5, 15). Then it was not easy, it was not easy yesterday, it is not easy today to do in such a way that a person begins to think and to act in a way diverse from the official ideology.

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A new teaching! He commands even the evil spirits. The first two signs of the Good News are these: his different way of teaching the things of God, and his power over evil spirits. Jesus opens a new road in order that people can attain purity. At that time, a person who was declared impure could not present himself/herself before God to pray and to receive the blessing promised by God to Abraham. He/she should first purify himself/herself. These and many other laws and norms made the life of people very difficult and marginalized many persons who were considered impure, far from God. Now, purified by the contact with Jesus, persons could present themselves before God. This was for them a great Good News!

Personal questions

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Could I really say: “I am fully free, master of myself? If I cannot say it of myself, then something in me is possessed by other powers. What do I do to expel this strange power?

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Today many people do not live, but are lived. Do not think, but they are thought by the means of communication, by mass media. Do not have a critical mind or way of thinking. They are not masters of themselves. How can this “devil” be expelled?

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Concluding prayer

Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the world!

What are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him? (Ps 8,1.4)

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-mark-121b-28

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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EXERCISING THE GIFT OF PROPHECY AUTHENTICALLY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: DT 18:15-20; 1 COR 7:32-35; MARK 1:21-28
http://www.universalis.com/20150201/mass.htm

One of the greatest challenges in our times today is the lost of credibility of religious leaders.  People in the world today are skeptical of religious leaders.  They no longer trust them.  The loss of credibility is of course related to that of authority.  However, the authority of a leader today can no longer rest on institutional authority, not even academic authority but personal authority.  Indeed, in the gospel, we have Jesus who taught with authority.  The evangelist noted that “his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught with authority.”

As priests and leaders today we are called to teach with authority.  In the first reading, the Lord said to the people, “I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it.”  Indeed, the Word of God often comes to us through the prophets that He sends to us.  It could be our siblings, parents, friends or Church. God sends prophets to help and enlighten us.  The task of the prophet is to speak the Word of God.  But how can we speak the Word of God in such a way that even the demons fear us?

What is the basis of Jesus’ authority?  Jesus must have taught with such personal conviction and authority that the people came to believe Him for they knew that He spoke from the depths of His heart and His relationship with the Father.  The authority of Jesus did not come from education but from His personal relationship with His Father.  This explains why He could preach with such authority since He spoke from His personal experience and not from some books that He studied or traditions passed down to Him as was the case of the scribes and the Pharisees.

Secondly, the basis of His authority lies in the actions.  Jesus did not only preach the Word of God but established that He has the Word of God by the way He commanded the Demon to leave the man.  When the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him, they said, “Here is a teaching that is new,” they said, “and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.”  Being a true prophet is more than just proclaiming the Word of God but living out the Word of God in one’s daily life.  Without living the Word of God, our preaching cannot inspire people for long, for they know that we are not being sincere with what we say.  Hence, the prophet not only teaches and proclaims, but in the final analysis, a true prophet can be distinguished from a false prophet by the way He conducts his life, the way he relates with others and the way he shows his devotion to God.

Jesus gives us the true model of a prophet.  He never acted out of selfish motivation.  He did not use His Divine Power for His own benefit but always for the good of His people.  He worked miracles only to express His compassion and love for them.  He never worked miracles for Himself.  In the gospel, Jesus demonstrated His compassion for the man who was possessed by the demon.  He was in deep sorrow that the man was suffering and afflicted by the demon.  Hence, in a stern command, He ordered the demon to “Be quiet! Come out of him!”  Jesus’ only concern was to do His Father’s will, and be at the service of His people.  We too must exercise the gift of prophecy in this manner, never for ourselves or to use the Word of God to get people to do the things we want them to do, but rather solely for their good and their good alone. 

How can we teach with the same authority of Jesus?  We need to give undivided attention to the Lord.  This is what St Paul is urging us.  St Paul’s letter must be read within contextHe was not condemning marriage life or disdaining the beauty of marriage.  The bible sanctifies marriage and Christ even raised it to a sacrament, the sign of God’s love.  But it was said in context in view of the nearness of the Second Coming of Christ.  Surely, one can devote oneself to God whether we are married or single.  It is a question of focus in what we do.  Are we doing everything for the Lord or for ourself?  What is our motivation?  Even choosing the single state of life can be for selfish reasons because we only want to love ourselves and not be responsible to others. We want to have our freedom and enjoyment.  Marriage also can be entered into for selfish reasons too, not so much to love our spouse or even to have children but purely for security.

So St Paul is not advocating marriage singlehood, but that we do everything for the Lord and His people.  If we devote what we do regardless of whether we are doing work within the or outside the Church, so long as we are doing for the glory of God and for His service, we are certainly focused.  The only problem is when we forget that we are serving the Lord and this can well happen even whilst serving in Church ministry.  This is why St Paul urges us to have singularity of purpose in life.  If we are divided within ourselves, we cannot hope to find peace and joy.  So long as there is division within us, so long as we are being torn by two desires, it would be impossible to find peace and integrity. 

Undivided attention to the Lord means first and foremost giving time to Him in prayer and intimacy.   We must cultivate a personal relationship with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit.  We cannot rely on institutional authority or on our office or even our theological knowledge.  Unless we know the Father intimately, we can speak with authority.  Only when we speak with a personal knowledge of the Father, can we also act with authority like Jesus, such that not only were people impressed by Him but even the devil obeyed Him.  Otherwise, not even our listeners will listen to us, much less the demons!

Undivided attention also means that we must be imbued with the Word of God.  Precisely because we are torn between worldly affairs and selfish needs, we need to hear the Word of God so that we do not lose focus in what we do in life.  To find direction and purpose in life, we must first be enlightened by the Word of God as to how we should direct our lives and live it in accordance with the gospel.  This was what the Lord told the people of Israel when they were unfaithful to the Covenant.  The psalmist says, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.” 

Unless we know the Lord personally, we cannot hear His words clearly for us and for His people.  Otherwise, we can even become false prophets and the Lord warns us, “But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” We must be careful that whilst exercising the gift of prophecy, we must also be clear of our motives, otherwise not only will we harm others but we will also cause harm to ourselves.  True prophets therefore must seek to live holy lives and be attentive to His word at prayer so that they can truly speak the Word of God and not their own ideas or worse still, use and manipulate the Word of God for their personal benefits and interests.  It is a great sin to use the Word of God especially to attack people for personal reasons.  At any rate, our listeners will know that we speak from our own agenda rather than the voice of God.  As sheep, they know the voice of a true shepherd that cares for them and not for himself. 

If we are attentive to the Word of God, it will help us to discern and diagnose the cause of our unhappiness and misery.  Listening to the Word enables us to enter into the depths of our souls, unmask the true motives of what we do and the fears that prompt us to take certain actions or follow certain directions in life.  Many of our sins and illnesses spring from unconscious motives.  A true prophet is not only responsible for helping people to discern right from wrong but to urge the good to be better and even to challenge those who are good for the wrong reasons.  It is not enough to come to consciousness of our flagrant sins but to discern whether we are doing the right thing for the right reasons.  Do we use God and religion for our benefit or really for the glory of God and for the service of His people?  Is our work really a service to our country and our family or merely for our selfish interests and aspirations?  Those of us who serve in the Church or in public service and voluntary organizations must enter deeper into the motives of what they do.  The necessity of living an authentic life is paramount in preventing us from hurting ourselves through repeated and reactive sins.

Finally, true prophets are not only of words but of deeds.  In our very life, let us seek to do His Will, to strive to live out what we preach so that our very lives become a demonstration of the power of God at work in us.  Let our very lives glorify God and be prophetic in itself.  When others see how we live out what we preach, they will then listen to what we say; and through listening, they can be enlightened and begin the process of their own healing through our words and testimony of the power of God at work in us and the liberating truth of the Word of God. We need to have prophets today who are courageous in proclaiming the Word of God.  However, it is not enough to proclaim the Word of God, it must be done with authority, personal, institutional and academic authority.

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/1-february-2015-4th-sunday-in-ordinary-time/#sthash.bxI0IkNY.dpuf

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Western Media Distorted Coverage of Hong Kong Protests, Professor Says

January 31, 2015

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Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters deface an image of the Police Commissioner

By Ivy Lee

For the West, democracy is not only a core value but also represents the best possible form of government for all nations.  This notion determined how the Western media perceived, interpreted and covered events in the 2014 Hong Kong protest.

When thousands of students called for a weeklong boycott of classes to demand open candidate nomination for Hong Kong’s upcoming Chief Executive election, the narrative of Hong Kong residents’ quest for ‘genuine’ universal suffrage struck a sympathetic chord with the Western media. The latter not only parroted the protestors’ claims, but reported the ensuing protest within the frame of a Hong Kong seeking democracy from an authoritarian China.

Hong Kong, September 28, 2014

Thus Western media rejected other plausible explanations for the massive unrest, such as the youthful demonstrators’ sense of dislocation, scarcity of desirable jobs and affordable housing, other economic factors and antipathy toward China and Chinese mainlanders.  This last factor of antipathy which some called an identity crisis proved to be especially difficult to fit into the media’s democracy frame because it led young people to demand a return of Hong Kong to the UK.  But Hong Kong was a colony, never a democracy, under the British.  Prior to and during Occupy Central, as the protest was collectively termed, Hong Kong youth demonstrated this desire in various marches by prominently displaying the UK colonial flag with the message: ‘I am a Hong Konger, not a Chinese’.

Early in the protest, the media often downplayed the context for the Hong Kong police’s use of force. They discounted the fact that the first confrontation between the police and students was actually precipitated by one of the student leaders. In coverage in which it was reported that protestors were urged by the student leader to break into the off-limits forecourt of a government complex, the subtext was clear: protestor actions were understandable given that Beijing rejected demands for ‘free elections’, while police use of tear gas in the ensuing chaos was inexcusable.

Riot police launch tear gas into the crowd as thousands of protesters surround the government headquarters in Hong Kong Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Hong Kong police used tear gas on Sunday and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the city. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

The media framing brought out many more Hong Kong residents to occupy the central district, bringing the central city to a standstill. Police attempting to disperse the crowd on 28 September were shown in a video titled ‘Who initiated the attack’. Vastly outnumbered, police stood tensely behind low barricades against a surging crowd of angry protestors. They raised a red banner warning the crowd to ‘stop charging or we will use force’. Suddenly, protestors at the front charged the police with their pointy umbrellas.

But media coverage of this incident generally started with the police crackdown which followed the umbrella charge. The non-contextualised image of police tossing tear gas into the crowd helped mobilise those who thought the police action was unwarranted and excessive.  Participants of the 2013 protest, which was also called Occupy Central, joined the students at this point and assembled en masse to swell the protest after 28 September. Although the original leaders who started the 2013 Occupy Central had hoped for a turnout of a few thousand supporters at their 2014 demonstration, the media had delivered massive mobilisation beyond their wildest dreams.

The Western media clung to the myth that the protestors were ‘peaceful’, but as early as 3 October, they were blocking an ambulance from reaching a collapsed policeman. Being incongruent with the narrative of a peaceful demand for democracy, incidents of protestor violence went unreported: off-duty police officers were attacked, fire extinguishers were turned on, and weapons such as bricks or boards spiked with nails were used against the police. Also unreported was a nine-day petition drive in late October (garnering 1.83 million signatures) supporting police action to return the roads to the citizens.

Responsible media would have explored what the protestors truly had in mind when labelling the protest as ‘pro-democracy’.  Did Beijing, as protestors claimed, contravene the principles set forth in the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration and betray its promise of universal suffrage?  Despite it being a central rallying point, do protestors have a clear notion and an agreed-upon definition of ‘democracy’? What is ‘genuine’ universal suffrage and ‘open nomination’? What, if any, are the rules and procedures of an ‘open nomination’? Is open nomination — a form of direct democracy — the only acceptable model? Or would the representational democracy of the West suffice?  The media failed to address these central questions.

With their ingrained prejudice against China and idealised assumptions about the protestors’ motives and demands, Western media outlets were not only biased, but failed to appreciate the complexity of the situation.  Instead, they streamlined the coverage to fit into their preconceived notions about democracy.  Thus the saying ‘if you don’t read the news, you are uninformed; if you do read the news, you are misinformed’ is a fitting description of the Western media’s coverage of the protest in Hong Kong.

Ivy Lee is Emeritus Professor at California State University, Sacramento.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/01/31/45050/

Hong Kong on October 10, 2014

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Civic Party member Ken Tsang, one of Hong Kong's pro-democracy political groups, is taken away by policemen, before being allegedly beaten up by police forces
Ken Tsang, a social worker and member of the Civic Party, was taken away by plainclothes policemen. He said the police beat him.

Ken Tsang shows the result of his meeting with Hong Kong police

Hong Kong democracy protesters have heard from Beijing that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t wan to hear from democracy protesters any more.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters: “They can’t kill us all.”

Why China Is Nervous About Its Role in the World

January 31, 2015

Jan. 29, 2015

China’s fear of closer ties between the U.S. and India may indicate growing economic problems at home

In the wake of President Obama’s historic trip to India, China issued an unsolicited and perplexing statement downplaying the relevance of the visit. As the White House pointed out in response, the only thing significant about China’s statement was the fact that the Asian nation felt the need to make it in the first place.

The rivalry between China and India for economic power and strategic control in Asia is longstanding and is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. But China’s taunt is not necessarily a sign of its hostility towards India but an inadvertent admission of its declining supremacy in the region.

China, once an accepted economic and military juggernaut and the darling of investors the world over, is now facing both economic and strategic challenges which could slow down its progress.

First, China’s economy seems to be shrinking. With industrial activity trending down and interest rate cuts yet to produce results, it’s looking likely that China’s meteoric economic rise may have peaked and, according to a report from the Conference Board, could lead to a 4% GDP growth rate in the future, which is considerably lower than in previous decades. Further problems plaguing China include a debt overhang, a real estate bubble, lack of competition, and an old-world industrial economy instead of a more modern information economy such as that of the U.S.

In addition, India’s economic growth is predicted to outpace China’s by 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund, a fact that doesn’t bode well for China’s dominance of Asia. That’s not to say that China will cease to be an economic power but that it may not be able to exert the same clout on the world stage that it once did.

Another major shift could be in China’s ability to use the specter of its military might to secure favorable trade terms with other nations. That specter, even as it grows, could be undermined by higher defense spending by India and Japan (aided by the U.S.), who are eager to contain China. At the same time, China can’t bank on Russia for support since the latter is facing its own crisis from low oil prices and economic sanctions. This could leave China isolated and weaken its position with trading partners.

Finally, there is the democracy factor. The recent protests in Hong Kong were an indication of the tenuousness of China’s draconian control over its people, and possibly of political upheaval to come.

Hong Kong based Vietnamese demonstrators carry Vietnam’s flag during a protest against China’s territory claim in Hong Kong May 25, 2014. Around 200 people marched on Sunday to declare Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu (CHINA – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)TYRONE SIU—REUTERS

In economic terms, this means that although China has done a fairly good job of balancing free market principles with state run control, the desire of citizens for democracy could force China to relax regulatory control over businesses, embrace labor reform, and truly open its markets in the not-too-distant future. That’s good news for investors but depends heavily on the reaction of the Chinese government, whose response to pro-democracy forces could be unpredictable and severe. Also, a sudden rise in labor costs due to free market forces could in itself disrupt the economic ecosystem in China, and have a negative impact on both domestic and foreign companies that rely on the labor pool.

Given this context, it becomes easier to understand just why China is nervous about closer ties developing between the world’s two largest democracies, the U.S. and India, and why global investors should be wary of the Chinese economic miracle. For sure, China will continue to be an influential player and has demonstrated resilience in the face of difficulties before, but investors looking to make money from the region should still temper their enthusiasm with a realistic assessment of where the nation is now.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

China Wants To Predict India’s Actions in South China Sea During Sushma Swaraj’s Visit

January 31, 2015

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BEIJING: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj arrives in Beijing on Saturday along with the new foreign secretary S Jaishankar who served as Indian ambassador to China until a year back to deal with a new set of issues.

China’s coast guard keeps a watchful eye on China’s oil rig 981 near Vietnam in May 2014.

Informed sources here said the Chinese officials will try to find out how serious India is about any kind of involvement in the affairs of South China Sea. China is still bristling over the US-Japan push into this area, which is surrounded by ASEAN countries.

“The US is trying to entice India into joining South China Sea politics. India should not fall into Washington’s trap,” said an analyst with a government-run think-tank here, requesting anonymity.

READ ALSO: Sushma Swaraj’s Beijing visit ‘important’ — China

China also wants to gauge Indian reaction to Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida statement in which he said Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India. China claims Arunachal and regards it as disputed.

Beijing to try to guage India’s response on South China Sea during Sushma Swaraj's visit

SushmaSwaraj is travelling to China along with new foreign secretary S Jaishankar (R). (PTI photo)Swaraj, who will also lay the ground for a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in possibly April, has the advantage of being aided by Jaishankar with his deep back-grounding in Beijing. His experience in Washington DC as well as Tokyo raises his profile in China like no other Indian foreign secretary’s in the Middle Kingdom in recent years.

Chinese foreign ministry opposed mention of South China Sea in the joint India-US statement. The two democracies had expressed concern over freedom of navigation and overhead flights in this sea area.

India’s stance, said sources, is clear: China cannot expect concessions from India if it continues to arm Pakistan and do nothing to help India combat Pakistani terrorism. Besides, Chinese companies have begun investing in the disputed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to soften India’s claims over it, experts said.

Swaraj may also have to keep quiet on China’s persistent demand that India participate in the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor. India prefers its own bilateral relationship with each country without Chinese taking the initiative, sources said.

Chinese worries about a US-sponsored front against it, which have grown since President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi after he advised Japan to send air patrols over South China Sea to ensure freedom of navigation.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Beijing-to-try-to-guage-Indias-response-on-South-China-Sea-during-Sushma-Swarajs-visit/articleshow/46073475.cms

Related:

China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.