Posts Tagged ‘Government’

The 30 Republicans Holding Up Tax Reform

September 14, 2017

The Freedom Caucus threatens to side with Democrats and block the GOP majority.

By Karl Rove
The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 13, 2017 6:53 p.m. ET

No matter how persuasive President Trump is, it’s unlikely he can round up enough Democrats to get 60 votes in the Senate for tax reform. That means Republicans will need to use the Senate’s reconciliation process, which avoids the filibuster, to pass their plan with 51 votes. But first the House and Senate must pass a budget resolution—and soon.

A budget resolution sets spending levels and authorizes congressional committees to prepare bills fulfilling the blueprint. With the reconciliation plan in mind, this year’s resolution would set the size of the tax reform and then instruct the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to flesh out the provisions.

Gaining agreement on a budget resolution is always tough. No more than a handful of lawmakers from the opposition party ever vote for the majority’s resolution. It helps that Republicans control both the House and Senate, but the GOP must still resolve its internal philosophical disagreements.

House Republicans tend to insist on resolutions that balance the budget within 10 years. This means resolutions that pledge to slow substantially the growth of entitlement spending. Such promises are rarely fulfilled. But putting them in the budget blueprint fuels Democratic ads claiming Republicans will throw grandma off the cliff and deprive poor children of free school lunches. Knowing this, Senate Republicans tend to want resolutions that reach balance after 10 years. Another GOP tension is between defense hawks, who want increased military spending, and deficit hawks, who want all spending restrained or cut.

Then there are nerdy but important technical arguments, starting with how the resolution’s spending baseline is calculated. Beginning with a baseline of “current law” means assuming that a tax break currently authorized for only a year or two will actually expire instead of being reauthorized. But Congress renews some tax breaks annually and probably will keep doing so through the next decade. To account for this, many in the GOP want to calculate the baseline under “current policy.”

It sounds technical, but it quickly becomes political. Democrats demand “current law” because a higher baseline would make tax reform appear to raise the deficit more than it actually would. On the other hand a lower baseline would give tax reform more wiggle room: One GOP budget expert tells me that “current policy” would provide, on paper, $450 billion that could be used to lower rates and make the tax code simpler and fairer.

Dynamic scoring is another geeky fight. A tax reform that generates economic growth will offset some of the government revenue lost from cutting rates. Republicans want their bill evaluated with dynamic scoring because it takes this effect into account and makes reform more attractive. Democrats oppose it for the same reason.

Still, given time and leadership—both on Capitol Hill and from the White House—Republicans could cobble together a budget resolution setting up a strong tax reform, which in turn would juice the economy and redeem the GOP in the midterms.

The biggest obstacle is the House Freedom Caucus. This group of just over 30 Republican congressmen has already slowed up the process by threatening to vote with Democrats against the GOP budget resolution unless they can see and approve, in advance, every major provision of the tax-reform bill. The Freedom Caucus tried in late July to block the House Budget Committee’s passage of a resolution unless the border-adjustment tax was taken off the table—which it then was. Now the Freedom Caucus’s members say they’ll flake on the budget resolution if tax reform includes full, immediate expensing of business investment. But if that’s agreed to, they’ll have more demands.

These lawmakers say they want Congress to operate in “regular order,” with committees grinding away to write legislation instead of leadership handing it down. This is hypocritical bunk. What they want is for their caucus to dictate the details of tax bills to the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Republican majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill. Their approach is to make demands while threatening to join Nancy Pelosi in opposing the budget resolution unless they get their way.

If the Freedom Caucus acts on its threat, the budget resolution could be voted down, making tax reform impossible. No doubt, following their M.O., the group’s members would then blame the GOP leadership. Even if the resolution passes, the Freedom Caucus’s shenanigans may delay tax reform until 2018. These lawmakers are demonstrating once again that the freedom they most prize is freedom from the responsibility of governing.

Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is the author of “The Triumph of William McKinley ” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Appeared in the September 14, 2017, print edition.


Mexico used ‘tools of tyranny’ to spy on journalists, says top reporter

June 28, 2017


© AFP / by Jean Luis ARCE | Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui has accused the government of using spyware on journalists

MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Forty minutes into our interview, noted Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui picks up her phone and jokingly greets the government agents she alleges have been spying on her.”Hello? Interior ministry? Ah well, you knew all this anyway. Thanks for listening!” says the veteran anchorwoman, who is famous for hard-hitting reports on government corruption.

Humor is helping Aristegui, 53, overcome the unsettling discovery that her cell phone — and her teenage son’s — were hacked with a spyware called Pegasus, which accesses a target’s communications, camera and microphone.

According to the New York Times, which broke the story last week, the secretive Israeli company behind the spyware, NSO Group, says it only sells it to government agencies.

 Image result for Enrique Peña Nieto, photos
President Enrique Peña Nieto

The spyware is meant to be used to fight terrorists and criminals.

But Aristegui and eight other leading journalists and activists, who commissioned an independent investigation after finding the spyware on their phones, last week accused the Mexican government of using it on them and their families — a claim the government denies.

It is the latest crisis for the freedom of the press in Mexico, which is ranked the most dangerous country for journalists after the war zones of Syria and Afghanistan, and where more than 100 journalists have been murdered since 2000.

Q: Your investigation found that spyware was installed on your phones when you clicked on links in fake text messages. What did those messages say?

“We received messages where they would use the name of a friend (of my son’s). ‘Hi Emilio,’ it said. ‘I’m so-and-so, will you friend me on Facebook?’ But oddly enough, that person was already his friend on Facebook.

“Another was a news headline saying ‘Druglord “El Chapo” Guzman’s right-hand man detained at such-and-such an address’ — which happened to be right in front of our house.”

Q: How did you feel when you realized you were being spied on?

“No matter how normal your life is, how transparent you are with yourself and your family, it’s intimidating to know they know everything about you.

“This spying obviously has a fundamental objective: to intimidate, to make you vulnerable to your own fears, your own human weakness, your own personal history or whatever. It’s a sinister thing, something a dictatorial regime would do. These are the tools of tyranny.

“Is this Mexico? Does Mexico behave like a tyrannical regime? Judging by its espionage practices, I would say so. We can’t allow this to happen in what is supposedly a democracy.”

Q: The spying started in 2015, and you suspected it for a long time. Why did you wait so long to go public?

“Put yourself in my shoes at that point. It was a serious thing. A delicate thing. I didn’t have enough trust in the Mexican government to report it.

“We didn’t know what to do. The question was: Who do we report this to? To the very same people who are surely spying on us? So we did nothing, we just left it at that.

“My personal reaction was also to downplay it at first, assuming that it’s quote-unquote ‘normal’ to spy on journalists.

“But the big news is we’ve now carried out a scientific study to prove it. Now the question is whether it was the Mexican government. I presume it was. Absolutely.”

Q: How did you react when you realized your son had been targeted?

“I felt bad. Very bad. I thought the Mexican government had crossed a very serious line.

“He’s one of the (targets) who received the most messages. Why did they push so hard to access Emilio’s phone? Why so many messages targeting this boy? Only the people who did it know why.”

Q: Are you afraid?

“I try to live my life in peace, without being paranoid that there’s a knife lurking behind every door. If you do that, they’ve won.

“I have faith — and I always tell myself this — that my public work as a journalist is our best protection.”

by Jean Luis ARCE

Russia’s disinformation efforts hit 39 countries: researchers

May 25, 2017


© AFP/File | A new report says Russian cyberespionage efforts hit at least 39 countries with disinformation and “tainted” leaks that mixed real and fake news


Russia’s campaign of cyberespionage and disinformation has targeted hundreds of individuals and organizations from at least 39 countries along with the United Nations and NATO, researchers said Thursday.

A report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto revealed the existence of “a major disinformation and cyber espionage campaign with hundreds of targets in government, industry, military and civil society,” lead researcher Ronald Deibert said.

The findings suggest that the cyber attacks on the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton — which US intelligence officials have attributed to Russia — were just the tip of the iceberg.

Citizen Lab researchers said the espionage has targeted not only government, military and industry targets, but also journalists, academics, opposition figures, and activists,

Notable targets, according to the report, have included a former Russian prime minister, former high-ranking US officials, members of cabinets from Europe and Eurasia, ambassadors, high ranking military officers and chief executives of energy companies.

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In a blog post, Deibert said the Russian-directed campaign follows a pattern of “phishing” attacks to obtain credentials of targets, and carefully “tainted” leaks that mix real and false information to create confusion around the true facts.

“Russia has a long history of experience with what is known as ‘dezinformatsiya,’ going back even to Soviet times,” Deibert said.

“Tainted leaks, such as those analyzed in our report, present complex challenges to the public. Fake information scattered amongst genuine materials — ‘falsehoods in a forest of facts’… is very difficult to distinguish and counter, especially when it is presented as a salacious ‘leak’ integrated with what otherwise would be private information.”

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Deibert said the researchers had no “smoking gun” that links the campaign to a particular government agency but added that “our report nonetheless provides clear evidence of overlap with what has been publicly reported by numerous industry and government reports about Russian cyber espionage.”

Citizen Lab said one of the targets was US journalist David Satter, who has written extensively on corruption in Russia.

Satter’s stolen e-mails were “selectively modified,” and then “leaked” to give the false impression that he was part of a CIA-backed plot to discredit Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report said.

Similar leak campaigns targeted officials from Afghanistan, Armenia, Austria, Cambodia, Egypt, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Peru, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the report.

UN officials and military personnel from more than a dozen countries were also targets, Citizen Lab said.

“Our hope is that in studying closely and publishing the details of such tainted leak operations, our report will help us better understand how to recognize and mitigate them,” Deibert said.

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Global Decline in Press Freedom Also Hits China — “Robot journalists are leading the way and fully compliant with party controls”

May 3, 2017

By China Digital Times

’s newly released Freedom of the Press 2017 report found that there has been a drastic global decline in over the past year amid growing media threats in both democratic countries as well as authoritarian states. China remains “not free” in terms of its status, receiving a total score of 87 out of 100, with 100 being the least free. The following are key developments that have shaped the legal and political environment for the Chinese media in 2016:

  • Xi Jinping, the state president and leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), made high-profile visits in February to key state media outlets, where he called for all media to demonstrate strict adherence to the party line.
  • The government adopted a new cybersecurity law in November, and a series of other regulations that increased restrictions on internet communications, online publication, and video streaming were issued over the course of the year.
  • Authorities tightened control over news dissemination channels, including social media and mobile-phone applications, and suspended permission for websites to repost content from the prominent news site Caixin.
  • Although the total of 38 behind bars at year’s end represented a slight decrease compared with 2015, at least 111 , bloggers, online writers, activists, and members of religious or ethnic minorities were sentenced during 2016 to prison terms of up to 19 years for alleged offenses related to freedom of expression or access to information. [Source]

Full regional reports measuring levels of press independence will soon become available for Taiwan and Hong Kong. Media freedom in the latter has steadily deteriorated over the last several years as a result of growing pressure from Beijing and local authorities alike.

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also released its 2017 World Press Freedom Index this week, ranking China as the world’s fifth-worst country for press freedom and the “leading prison for citizen journalists.” Hong Kong currently stands at 73 out of the 180 countries surveyed after moving down four spots on the ranking list. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s rating has improved markedly with the nation now occupying the 45th position, up six places from last year. Findings from the Index suggest that attacks on the press have become increasingly commonplace in today’s world. Growing suppression of media freedom has been especially prevalent in democracies, with countries such as the United States and Finland falling in the Index. Countries that have previously received low rankings have also registered declines in press freedom, with the media environment in Burundi, Egypt, and Bahrain now classified as “very bad.”

As a part of grim developments in the country, journalists in China could soon face financial penalties as the Chinese government makes plans to link journalists’ online postings with their credit rating. Yaqiu Wang reports for the :

The creation of China’s system of credit scoring, which will be implemented in stages, could result in scenarios in which journalists who write or speak critically of the government face direct, personal financial consequences. Those consequences could be life-altering: A journalist whose social media post is deemed a “rumor” by the government could see her credit score lowered, resulting in her being denied a loan or saddled with a high interest rate.

[…] In June 2014, the State Council, the administrator of the Chinese central government, issued a planning document that sets forth the creation of a nationwide “Social Credit System” to monitor and rate the “social credibility” of individuals, private companies, government agencies and non-governmental organizations based on information from various government agencies and private institutions. Such information could include criminal records, tax documents, employer evaluations, purchasing preferences and online activities. The document states that the system would evaluate the credit history and online activities of internet users and blacklist “individuals engaging in online swindles” and “rumormongering.” The document also calls for adopting “measures against subjects listed on black lists,” including restricting their online activities, barring sectoral access and reporting them to corresponding departments for exposure.

[…] Journalists told CPJ the online credit system is a significant concern because it represents a new way of linking a person’s speech with other aspects of their lives. Censorship in China already goes beyond the usual tactics of removing journalists’ and writers’ social media accounts, shutting down news websites, and jailing journalists; it also involves thwarting journalists’ other daily activities, denying them career opportunities and banishing them from mainstream social engagements. [Source]

Read more about China’s nascent social credit system in a CDT interview with Shazeda Ahmed. As a censorship tactic, the development of the social credit system can be seen as part of a larger trend in which state actors are increasingly making use of innovative ways to control information. Joel Simon at the Committee to Protect Journalists discusses three categories of strategies that various governments and non-state actors have developed in recent years to control and manage information.

Repression 2.0 is an update on the worst old-style tactics, from state censorship to the imprisonment of critics, with new information technologies including smartphones and social media producing a softening around the edges. Masked political control means a systematic effort to hide repressive actions by dressing them in the cloak of democratic norms. Governments might justify an internet crackdown by saying it is necessary to suppress hate speech and incitement to violence. They might cast the jailing of dozens of critical journalists as an essential element in the global fight against terror.

Finally, technology capture means using the same technologies that have spawned the global information explosion to stifle dissent, by monitoring and surveilling critics, blocking websites and using trolling to shout down critical voices. Most insidious of all is sowing confusion through propaganda and false news.

These strategies have contributed to an upsurge in killings and imprisonment of journalists around the world. In fact, at the end of 2016 there were 259 journalists in jail, the most ever documented by CPJ. Meanwhile, violent forces–from Islamic militants to drug cartels–have exploited new information technologies to bypass the media and communicate directly with the public, often using videos of graphic violence to send a message of ruthlessness and terror. [Source]

For academic scholars in China, speaking to foreign press is becoming increasingly costly as universities tighten relevant regulations discouraging such conduct. Te-Ping Chen at The Wall Street Journal Reports:

Wu Qiang, a former politics lecturer at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua university, said in an interview on Thursday that he was repeatedly scolded by university officials bearing printed-out copies of reports in which he was cited by foreign media. Mr. Wu said he eventually grew more cautious about granting interviews but continued to speak to foreign reporters. As a scholar, he said, “I’ve always felt the responsibility to do so.”

Mr. Wu, who first began his tenure at the university in 2009, said the university declined to renew his contract in 2015. While no reason was cited, he says, he believes it pertained both to his repeated interactions with foreign media and the nature of his research into social movements.

[…] Mr. Wu said he was never shown any written guidelines banning communication with foreign media. But other universities have recently posted regulations online requiring approval by school authorities before speaking to foreign media.

“When accepting interviews from foreign media,” one such notice advises, “you must earnestly work to prevent leaking secrets.” [Source]

At The New York Times, Beijing bureau chief Jane Perlez spoke of the ongoing technological challenges of reporting in China where the Great Firewall poses a constant hurdle to online information access. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is now attempting to imitate China’s model of internet control with increased online censorship.

In addition to these developments in press freedom conditions, China Media Project’s David Bandurski writes that the media industry in China is also currently undergoing a millennial shift, one that is characterized by the “progressive loss of professional capacity” as the industry turns increasingly into a “rice bowl” profession for the young. Low pay and censorship are cited as the key factors driving away talent as old hands get pushed out of the industry and replaced by younger and less experienced journalists.

Many factors have driven an exodus of older talent from China’s media, from poor pay and the digital transformation of the industry — now hitting traditional Chinese media that for many years had seemed protected from the storms buffeting media elsewhere in the world — to the vagaries of censorship, which can sap the professional spirit. But the net effect of this shift is the progressive loss of professional journalism capacity in China’s media.

[…] Falling pay (relative to cost of living) and rising pressure mean the entire journalism profession is skewing younger in China. A 2016 survey by PR Newswireshowed that more than 80 percent of the “front-line journalists” reporting the news in China were born after 1985, meaning they were 30 years old or younger. By contrast, a survey of journalists in the U.S., conducted in 2013 by the School of Journalism at Indiana University, showed the median age had risen from 41 to 47 since 2002.

[…] Last month, the youthfulness of China’s journalists became a topic of renewed debate on social media in China after former FT China editor-in-chief Zhang Lifen (张力奋) said at the Bo’ao Forum for Asia Annual Conference that while the journalism profession anywhere in the world must rely on cumulative experience, journalists in China treat the job as a “young rice bowl” profession — in other words, as something to be endured only for a few years early in a career before one moves on to a job with real pay and a real future.

[…] The discussion inside China of the reasons for journalism’s flagging appeal among older — even just slightly older — professionals tends not to dwell on censorship, the elephant in the room. But the fact is that media controls, now more stringent and more effective than at any time in the past two decades, have a constraining effect on all aspects of the profession. [Source]

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Tom Phillips reports that a new generation of international war correspondents has emerged in China as a result of the state media’s effort to expand its global reach.

Shixin Zhang, the author of a book on Chinese war correspondents, said China’s race to the front began a little over two decades ago when editors in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou began sending journalists to conflicts including the Gulf War and Kosovo.

In 2008 that race became a stampede after Beijing announced it would pump 20bn yuan (£2.3bn) into key state-media outlets such as Xinhua, CCTV, China Radio International and Communist party mouthpiece the People’s Daily in a bid “to get its message across to the outside world”. “The current struggle between East and West is mainly for the right to be heard,” Huang Youyi, the vice president of China International Publishing Group, said at the time.

Privately-owned newspapers and television channels have also joined the rush, hoping to boost ratings and sales. In 2011, dozens of reporters jetted into Libya to witness Colonel Gaddafi’s downfall, reputedly the largest Chinese contingent ever to cover a single conflict. [Source]

Also at The Guardian, Wang Zhen looks at what a day on the job is like for Yuan Wenyi, one of China’s few female war reporters.

The 36-year-old reporter remembers her action-packed debut as a conflict reporter as a “sheer delight”. But her first experience of war was almost her last.

[…] “Run! Run! Run!” she recalls screaming at the station’s cameraman, Li Yanjun, as a shell exploded not far from their filming position, sending them scrambling back towards their vehicle.

As they raced away from the action, bullets whizzing through the air, Yuan remembers worrying that the car might explode: “I felt so desperate … All the blood rushed up into my forehead. I totally lost my voice.”

[…] Female voices are still a rarity among China’s new generation of war correspondent. But Yuan said she hoped Chinese newsrooms would gradually shake off the outdated idea that war zones were for men. “Work is work – it’s just the same for me as for everybody else.” [Source]

Elsewhere, SupChina reports that Chinese state media Xinhua News Agency has debuted its first robot reporter in a live interview with Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine.


China tightens rules for online news providers

May 3, 2017


© AFP/File | Sites blocked due to their content or sensitivity, among them Facebook and Twitter, cannot be accessed in China without special software that allows users to bypass the strict controls

BEIJING (AFP) – China has issued new internet regulations increasing Communist party control over online news providers, the latest step in the country’s push to tighten its policing of the web.

The ruling party oversees a vast apparatus designed to censor online content deemed politically sensitive, maintaining that such measures are necessary for the protection of national security.

Sites blocked due to their content or sensitivity, among them Facebook and Twitter, cannot be accessed in China without special software that allows users to bypass the strict controls.

New regulations released by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) Tuesday will increase party control over who can publish what online, taking effect June 1.

All websites, apps, forums, blogs, microblogs, social media accounts, instant messaging and live streaming platforms and other entities that select or edit news will need a license to post reports or commentary about the government, economy, military, foreign affairs, and social issues, the CAC said.

Such online news service providers must “correctly guide public opinion” and “serve the cause of socialism” while “safeguarding national and public interests”, it said.

Business and editorial operations must be kept separate, and those who do not receive public funding will not be allowed to conduct original reporting, it added.

Staff at online outlets must undergo governmental training and assessment, and receive official accreditation, while top editors must be approved.

Additionally, no Chinese outlets may set up a joint venture with a foreign partner without undergoing a “security assessment” through the State Council Information Office.

Online news providers who fail to comply with the new regulations will have their licenses revoked and receive fines of up to 30,000 yuan ($4,352).

The new guidelines come after the passing of a controversial cybersecurity bill last November, which also tightened restrictions on online freedom of speech.

Paris-based monitoring group Reporters Without Borders last week ranked China as the fifth worst country in the world for press freedom, coming in 176th out of 180 countries, just one place ahead of war-torn Syria.

Modi fails to exploit India’s great opportunity — fastest-growing large economy — He should dare to do more

April 4, 2016

Financial Times (FT)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the centenary celebration of missionary organisation the Gaudiya Math and Mission at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata on February 21, 2016. AFP PHOTO / Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP / DIBYANGSHU SARKAR (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP

Narendra Modi has been prime minister of India for almost two years. The good news is that the Asian giant is now the fastest-growing large economy in the world. The bad news is that the Modi government is failing to take full advantage of the mandate it won in May 2014. This matters economically and politically. The more the economy succeeds, the smaller the temptation for Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party to exploit the politics of resentful nationalism or of communal and caste division.

This is not to downplay the achievements so far. Helped by falling oil prices and working together with Raghuram Rajan, the respected governor of the Reserve Bank of India, the government has stabilised the economy. Consumer price inflation has fallen from above 10 per cent in 2013 to below 6 per cent. The central government’s fiscal deficit is forecast to reach 3.5 per cent in 2016-17. Above all, the government forecasts economic growth at between 7 and 7.75 per cent this year. This looks remarkably good.

Yet it could be better. Even if one puts to one side doubts about India’s economic statistics, private investment remains weak. The government has rightly emphasised improved administration, faster decision-making and greater ease of doing business. It is also making progress in opening financial access to the poor. Yet corruption remains a concern. Meanwhile, the government it is delivering little in the way of fundamental reforms, relying more on competition among states than on action at the centre.

As Eswar Prasad of Cornell University notes, India has a long list of incomplete or unattempted reforms. The labour market remains choked by regulations. This is why the organised private sector employs a mere 2 per cent of the population. The contrast with China’s ability to create jobs in formal businesses is very much to India’s discredit. The “demographic dividend” of a youthful population means little if the quality of education is poor. Markets for land and capital remain distorted. Several public sector banks are in dire shape. They need recapitalisation and radical reform. Spending on infrastructure continues to lag. Inefficient public sector monopolies dominate important industries, including trade in food and coal production.

To be fair, Mr Modi’s government cannot solve all these problems on its own. India is, after all, a vigorous federal democracy. The government does not control the upper house in parliament or the state governments. For the former reason, it has even been unable to legislate the goods and services tax (a national value added tax), even though the opposition favours the reform, in principle. For the latter reason, it is unable to implement reform in important areas, not least education.

Nevertheless, the central government can act in important areas, including privatisation. Above all, as India’s dominant politician, Mr Modi enjoys an ability to shape the national agenda enjoyed by no other leader in over three decades. Yet he has chosen managerialism over reform.

India needs more than that. Above all, it could perform even better with a more vigorous and more inclusive market economy. Achieving that would transform the destiny of a country that will soon be the most populous on the planet. Moreover, it would be more than an economic achievement. Durably shifting the political debate away from the anger and resentments of the past towards hopes of a bright future is also what India’s politics needs. Mr Modi alone can shift the political debate decisively in the more positive direction. He should dare to do so.

300,000 Chinese officials punished for corruption last year — Central Committee for Discipline Inspection

March 6, 2016

MARCH 6, 2016, 6:09 A.M. E.S.T.

Wang Qishan (center), China’s anti-corruption czar, attends the 6th plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection in Beijing, China, from Jan. 12 to 14, 2016 Photo credit  Xinhua/Zuma

BEIJING — China’s ruling Communist Party says it punished nearly 300,000 officials for corruption last year.

The party’s official watchdog body said Sunday that 200,000 were given light punishments and 82,000 handed severe penalties, including demotions within the bureaucracy.

The body known as the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection rarely explains its methodology or what evidence it considers, and no other details were given in the brief statement posted on its website.

President Xi Jinping has pressed a massive nationwide probe of corruption among officials of all ranks, including those in the party, government, military and state-run industries.

Hundreds of thousands of officials have been interviewed in the campaign but only a small number identified. An independent database lists 1,567 as having been investigated, expelled from the party or sentenced.

Hong Kong Elections A Sign Of More Beijing Policies, Or More Freedom?

February 27, 2016

Win for Chow in today’s by-election would mean Beijing loyalist majority in both halves of house

By Stuart Lau
South China Morning Post

It is “beyond doubt” the Hong Kong government will ask the legislature to rewrite internal rules to limit filibuster if Holden Chow Ho-ding wins the by-election today and helps the pro-establishment camp get a majority, an ex-minister has said.

“How would the government give up the golden chance?,”former secretary for the civil service Wong Wing-ping told the Sunday Morning Post a day ahead of the New Territories East poll. “That will be the only chance for the government to amend the rules and procedures as it is unlikely for the pro-establishment camp to get a geographical constituency majority in the [general] election in September.”

If Chow, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, beats pro-democracy rivals Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, of the Civic Party, and Edward Leung Tin-kei, of Hong Kong Indigenous, more than half of the 35 geographical constituency seats will be controlled by the pro-establishment camp.

Together with the functional constituency majority, it is now possible for any changes to the Legislative Council rules of procedure to be affirmed by the majority of lawmakers from both halves of the house.

Most pan-democrats have worried that if the filibuster rules were limited, they would lose what they regarded as their “most powerful ammunition against legislative tyranny”.

While pro-establishment veterans have called it unlikely for the government to seek a rule rewrite – an apparent move to calm worries that might boost votes sympathetic to the pan-democratic camp – Wong said the grounds they used were irrelevant.

For example, it would be wrong to suggest that the legislature lacked time to do such an amendment. While it is true that other government motions would take priority before the current Legco session ends in July, the chief executive could exercise his constitutional power to order an emergency meeting to change the rule before the formation of the new Legco in September, Wong said.

It is also suggested that the government would restrain from doing so for fear that pan-democrats would take advantage of public sympathy and gain more seats in September. But Wong questioned the claim as the room for pan-democrats to get a landslide victory was very slim.

Four other candidates are running: Nelson Wong Sing-chi of Third Side and non-affiliated Christine Fong Kwok-shan, Albert Leung Sze-ho, and Lau Chi-shing.

Survey finds a quarter of Hong Kong’s working population show signs of depression and anxiety

October 5, 2015


By Gloria Chan
South China Morning Post

The study found that Hongkongers’ stress levels were more than twice the global average for working people. Photo: SCMP Pictures

A quarter of working persons in Hong Kong show levels of depression and anxiety – 2.5 times above the global average – and around 18 per cent of working persons need psychological treatment, a recent survey revealed.

Among the 377 workers jointly surveyed by the Occupational Safety and Health Council and the Whole Person Education Foundation, over 60 per cent said they felt highly stressed due to their jobs and over half of them have sub-optimal mental and psychological health.

The survey was conducted in June, and the council and the foundation also co-organised a pilot ‘Work-Life Happiness Workshop’ from June to September this year to help boost participants’ resistance to stress.

READ MORE: Doctor warns of suicide risk as 40pc of Hong Kong pupils suffer stress as new term begins

Dr Wong Chung-kwong, chairman of the foundation and a former professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry at The Chinese University, said, “Through learning and practising positive psychology, working persons can be more immune to facing stress, thus lowering the risk of suffering from psychological illnesses like depression or anxiety.”

Following the workshop, positive changes were reported amongst participants, all of whom took part in the survey as well.

The number of those who felt highly stressed due to their jobs fell from 60 per cent to 37 per cent; those who suffered from depression and anxiety declined from 25 per cent to 18 per cent; and those who needed psychological treatment dipped from 17.6 per cent to 14 per cent.

READ MORE: The sorry state of mental health care in Hong Kong

Bonnie Yau Man, executive director of the council, called the results “very encouraging”, and claimed that learning how to turn work stress into work challenges is “what many Hongkongers need.”

“Excessive work pressure will affect one’s mental health and relationship with family,” she added. “It will also weaken one’s productivity and increase the society’s burden on medical expenses.” Yau called on employers, employees, and society to “treat this matter seriously”.

The second round of the free workshops led by Dr Wong is now open to applications. Classes will be held at the council’s training centre in North Point every Wednesday from November 25 for five consecutive weeks.

China’s Toxic Mindset — With Little Emphasis on Human Rights and Transparency, China’s State-Run Media Will Never Help Foster Needed Changes

August 18, 2015

Rescuers in protective suits are scrambling to clean up hundreds of tonnes of toxic cyanide at the site of explosions in the northern port city of Tianjin, and state-run media has criticised officials for their lack of transparency over the blasts that have killed 114.

The death toll is expected to rise as a further 70 people, mostly firemen, remain missing.

The fireball that tore through a warehouse storing hazardous chemicals last Wednesday night left behind a devastated landscape littered with incinerated cars, crumpled shipping containers and shattered windows on buildings several kilometres away hit by shockwaves from the blasts. As fears grow about air quality in the city, criticism in the press has mounted, with editorials fingering local officials for the slow release of information.

Chinese citizens were living in these apartments near the port of Tianjin, China last week when the explosions and inferno destroyed the area. EPA photo

“During the first dozens of hours after the blasts, there was scant information offered by the Tianjin authorities,” the Global Times said in an editorial. “A single slow reaction can lead to rumours running riot. And in turn, public confidence in the government will continue to fall.”

China Daily’s editorial noted that many questions remain to be answered. “When the entire site will be cleared up remains a question, and whether there is still any potential health threat from toxic gas in the air or contamination of the nearby environment remains to be determined,” it said.

Officials yesterday promised to clear most of the toxic sodium cyanide at the periphery of the blast area by the end of the day.

The quality of the air and water in the nearby river is within safe standards, they said at a press conference, even as some 200 residents gathered outside the venue demanding compensation for their damaged homes.

The Tianjin disaster is just the latest in a string of deadly industrial accidents in China occurring against the backdrop of three decades of frenetic economic growth which has left workplace safety standards struggling to keep up.

As recently as last month, 15 people were killed and more than a dozen injured when an illegal fireworks warehouse exploded in northern Hebei province.

Top Chinese leaders have repeatedly demanded that safety issues be tackled but such calls have gained little ground on the factory floor. Last Saturday, President Xi Jinping, for instance, urged the authorities to learn from the “extremely profound” lessons paid for with blood from the Tianjin blasts which, besides killing 114, have also caused injuries to more than 700 people. It could turn out to be an expensive tragedy, with media reports estimating insurance claims of up to 10 billion yuan (S$2.2 billion).

But Mr Xi’s call is not new. He had similarly pressed for efforts to resolve China’s “deep-rooted” safety issues in June 2013 after some 120 people died when a fire broke out at a poultry plant in northern Jilin province.

Experts say despite high-level attention to the issue, workplace safety continues to be a problem in China because of poor enforcement of safety regulations and lax controls over inspections and training.

While many workplace safety rules exist, they are not strictly enforced, partly due to corruption that allows business owners to evade regulations in pursuit of profit, according to the experts.

Mr He Shusheng, a Tianjin vice-mayor, told a news conference “around 700 tonnes” of sodium cyanide were stored at the warehouse where the blasts took place, significantly more than it was authorised to do so. The Beijing News, citing storage plans it had seen, said the warehouse was authorised to hold only 24 tonnes of the substance.

Mr Li Qiang, founder of China Labour Watch, told The Straits Times that properly ensuring workplace safety will significantly raise a firm’s cost. “The penalties of safety violations are also not severe in China. Many businesses just hope to be lucky and escape having industrial accidents,” he said. “The enforcement by local governments is another issue; in many cases, firms simply pay the fines and are able to pass safety inspections.”

And Mr Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin which promotes workers’ rights, pointed out: “There is no shortage of legislation on workplace safety in China, the problem is it’s simply not enforced on the ground.”

There are rules, for instance, for machine inspection, safe operation, and even upper levels for labour intensity to prevent injuries from overwork.

Statistically, there seems to have been some improvement in the area of work safety, although overall numbers remain shocking. Figures from the State Administration of Work Safety show that in the first six months of this year there were 139,000 industrial accidents and 26,000 deaths. This is a 7.5 per cent and 5.5 per cent decrease respectively, from the same period last year – but it is still an average of 143 workers killed daily.

China is the world’s largest producer of coal and in this sector there has been notable progress. Accidents in Chinese coal mines killed 931 people last year, according to official figures, down from 7,000 in 2002 as the consolidation of the industry led to many small mines being closed.

China’s top prosecutor has opened an investigation into the Tianjin blasts, which have reignited the debate about safety standards in the country. Experts say simply passing more laws will not solve the problem. Rather, a change in mindset is sorely needed.

“The only way to improve safety is to make it a priority in the workplace, to create a culture where employers, employees and regulators all stress the importance of safety over the blind pursuit of profit,” Mr Crothall told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline ‘Toxic mindset’.

  • JULY 2015: 15 people were killed and more than a dozen injured when an illegal fireworks warehouse exploded in the northern province ofHebei. The blast even shattered windows of a factory about1kmaway, said the Xinhua news agency.NOVEMBER 2014: A fire at a food packaging plant in Shandong province killed at least 18 workers and injured 13. The blaze destroyed 1,500 sqmof the factory. A preliminary investigation showed a faulty freezer caused the blast, Xinhua reported.AUGUST 2014: An explosion at a car parts factory in Jiangsu province killed at least 146 people. The State Administration of Work Safety found the factory lacked adequate ventilation or equipment to clear the high concentration of dust that led to the blast. The factory had been warned about dust several times before the accident.

    NOVEMBER 2013: A pipeline explosion at state-owned oil refiner Sinopec’s facility in the eastern port of Qingdao killed 62 people and injured 136. Unacceptable oil pipeline design, inadequate supervision and handling were among factors blamed for the blast.

    JUNE 2013: Some 120 people died and 54 were injured when a huge fire broke out at a poultry plant in Jilin province. The blaze was said to have been caused by an ammonia leak, and the high number of deaths was attributed to the fact that many of the exits were locked, thereby cutting off any possible emergency escape routes.