Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

Brexit Could Turn Out Differently Than Anyone Thought — “Everything is still to play for.”

July 23, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Lucy Harris thinks Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is a dream come true. Nick Hopkinson thinks it’s a nightmare.

The two Britons — a “leave” supporter and a “remainer” — represent the great divide in a country that stepped into the unknown just over a year ago, when British voters decided by 52 percent to 48 percent to end more than four decades of EU membership.

They are also as uncertain as the rest of the country about what Brexit will look like, and even when it will happen. Since the shock referendum result, work on negotiating the divorce from the EU has slowed to a crawl as the scale and complexity of the challenge becomes clearer.

Harris, founder of the pro-Brexit group Leavers of London, says she is hopeful, rather than confident, that Britain will really cut its ties with the EU.

“If we haven’t finalized it, then anything’s still up for grabs,” she said. “Everything is still to play for.”

She’s not the only Brexiteer, as those who support leaving the EU are called, to be concerned. After an election last month clipped the wings of Britain’s Conservative government, remainers are gaining in confidence.

“Since the general election I’ve been more optimistic that at least we’re headed toward soft Brexit, and hopefully we can reverse Brexit altogether,” said Hopkinson, chairman of pro-EU group London4Europe. “Obviously the government is toughing it out, showing a brave face. But I think its brittle attitude toward Brexit will break and snap.”

Many on both sides of the divide had assumed the picture would be clearer by now. But the road to Brexit has not run smoothly.

First the British government lost a Supreme Court battle over whether a vote in Parliament was needed to begin the Brexit process. Once the vote was held, and won, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government officially triggered the two-year countdown to exit, starting a race to untangle four decades of intertwined laws and regulations by March 2019.

Then, May called an early election in a bid to strengthen her hand in EU negotiations. Instead, voters stripped May’s Conservatives of their parliamentary majority, severely denting May’s authority — and her ability to hold together a party split between its pro-and anti-EU wings.

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David Davis (left) and Michel Barnier at their news conference in Brussels. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Since the June 8 election, government ministers have been at war, providing the media with a string of disparaging, anonymously sourced stories about one another. Much of the sniping has targeted Treasury chief Philip Hammond, the most senior minister in favor of a compromise “soft Brexit” to cushion the economic shock of leaving the bloc.

The result is a disunited British government and an increasingly impatient EU.

EU officials have slammed British proposals so far as vague and inadequate. The first substantive round of divorce talks in Brussels last week failed to produce a breakthrough, as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Britain must clarify its positions in key areas.

Barnier said “fundamental” differences remain on one of the biggest issues — the status of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain and 1 million U.K. nationals who reside in other European countries. A British proposal to grant permanent residency to Europeans in the U.K. was dismissed by the European Parliament as insufficient and burdensome.

There’s also a fight looming over the multibillion-euro bill that Britain must pay to meet previous commitments it made as an EU member. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson recently asserted the bloc could “go whistle” if it thought Britain would settle a big exit tab.

“I am not hearing any whistling. Just the clock ticking,” Barnier replied.

EU officials insist there can be no discussion of a future trade deal with Britain until “sufficient progress” has been made on citizens’ rights, the exit bill and the status of the Irish border.

“We don’t seem to be much further on now than we were just after the referendum,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “I’m not sure anybody knows just how this is going to go. I’m not sure the government has got its negotiating goals sorted. I’m not sure the EU really knows what (Britain’s goals) are either.

“I think we are going to find it very, very hard to meet this two-year deadline before we crash out.”

The prospect of tumbling out of the bloc — with its frictionless single market in goods and services — and into a world of tariffs and trade barriers has given Britain’s economy the jitters. The pound has lost more than 10 percent of its value against the dollar in the last year, economic growth has slowed and manufacturing output has begun to fall.

Employers’ organization the Confederation of British Industry says the uncertainty is threatening jobs. The group says to ease the pain, Britain should remain in the EU’s single market and customs union during a transitional period after Brexit.

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That idea has support from many lawmakers, both Conservative and Labour, but could bring the wrath of pro-Brexit Conservatives down on the already shaky May government. That could trigger a party leadership challenge or even a new election — and more delays and chaos.

In the meantime, there is little sign the country has heeded May’s repeated calls to unite. A post-referendum spike in hate crimes against Europeans and others has subsided, but across the country families have fought and friendships have been strained over Brexit.

“It has created divisions that just weren’t there,” said Hopkinson, who calls the forces unleashed by Brexit a “nightmare.”

On that, he and Harris agree. Harris set up Leavers of London as a support group after finding her views out of synch with many others in her 20-something age group.

“I was fed up with being called a xenophobe,” she said. “You start this conversation and it gets really bad very quickly.”

She strongly believes Britain will be better off outside the EU. But, she predicts: “We’re in for a bumpy ride, both sides.”

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Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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Top Tory Philip Hammond enjoys a rent-free home

Americans Feel Good About the Economy, Not So Good About Trump

July 17, 2017

By John McCormick
Bloomberg

July 17, 2017, 4:00 AM EDT
  • Just 40 percent approve of president’s performance in office
  • Narrow majority expect stock market to be higher by year’s end
Traders pass in front of an American flag displayed outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York.

 Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Almost six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans are feeling fairly optimistic about their jobs, the strength of the U.S. economy, and their own fortunes. That should be welcome news for the president, except for one thing: The public’s confidence largely appears to be in spite of Trump, not because of him.

The latest Bloomberg National Poll shows 58 percent of Americans believe they’re moving closer to realizing their own career and financial aspirations, tied for the highest recorded in the poll since the question was first asked in February 2013.

A majority expect the U.S. stock market to be higher by the end of this year, while 30 percent anticipate a decline. Yet they don’t necessarily think Trump deserves credit for rising markets and falling unemployment.

Just 40 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing in the White House, and 55 percent now view him unfavorably, up 12 points since December. Sixty-one percent say the nation is headed down the wrong path, also up 12 points since December.

Trump scored his best numbers on his handling of the economy, but even there the news for him isn’t great. Less than half of Americans — 46 percent — approve of Trump’s performance on the economy; 44 percent disapprove. He gets slightly better marks for job creation, with 47 percent approving.

“If you take the president’s scores out of this poll, you see a nation increasingly happy about the economy,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, who oversaw the survey. “When Trump’s name is mentioned, the clouds gather.”

In nearly every measure of his performance, the poll indicates that Trump’s tumultuous presidency is not wearing well with the public. A 56 percent majority say they’re more pessimistic about Trump because of his statements and actions since the election. That’s a huge swing since December when 55 percent said his statements and actions made them more optimistic about him.

Read the poll questions and methodology here.

The public has grown more skeptical that Trump will deliver on some of his most ambitious campaign promises. Two-thirds don’t think he’ll succeed in building a wall along the Mexican border during his first term. More than half say he won’t be able to revive the coal industry.

A majority — 54 percent — believe Trump will manage to create trade deals more beneficial to the U.S., but that’s down from 66 percent in December. There’s division on whether he’ll be able to bring a substantial number of jobs back to America, or significantly reform the tax code.

And despite his assurances that he and congressional Republicans will repeal Obamacare and replace it with a “beautiful” new health care bill, 64 percent of Americans say they disapprove of his handling of the issue. That’s especially significant because health care topped unemployment, terrorism and immigration as the issue poll respondents chose as the most important challenge facing the nation right now.

There are at least two areas where Americans say they believe Trump will deliver: Almost two-thirds say he will make significant cuts in government regulation, though it’s not clear whether most think that’s a good or bad thing. Likewise, 53 percent believe he will succeed in deporting millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The public is also skeptical about Trump’s abilities as a world leader, with 58 percent saying they disapprove of the way he handles relations with other countries and 46 percent disappointed in his actions on trade agreements.

Americans are more pessimistic about foreign policy than they were in December. Fifty-five percent now say they expect dealings with Germany to get worse during the next four years, up 22 points. The share of poll respondents who anticipate worsening relations with the U.K., Mexico, Cuba and Russia also increased by double digits.

The public is also wary of Trump’s motives in his negotiations with other countries. Just 24 percent said they were “very confident” that Trump puts the nation’s interests ahead of his businesses or family when dealing with foreign leaders.

Americans have plenty of other worries about the world. Majorities believe it’s realistic that terrorists will launch a major attack on U.S. soil (68 percent) and that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon aimed at the U.S. (55 percent).

Trump has called the expanding investigations into possible connections between his presidential campaign and Russia a “witch hunt.” But the public isn’t necessarily taking his side. Since the president’s decision to oust former FBI Director James Comey, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s standing has improved. It’s now viewed favorably by 68 percent, up 10 points since December. Comey is viewed positively by 43 percent, while 36 percent see him negatively.

Meanwhile, most Americans don’t share the president’s apparent soft spot for Vladimir Putin: 65 percent view the Russian president negatively — and 53 percent say it’s realistic to think Russian hacking will disrupt future U.S. elections.

There is one notable bright spot for Trump. Though views of the White House as an institution are at the lowest level ever recorded by the poll — with 48 percent now viewing it unfavorably, up 21 points since December — Trump’s voters are still sticking with him. Among those who cast ballots for him, 89 percent still say he’s doing a good job.

The telephone poll of 1,001 American adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, higher among subgroups. It was conducted July 8-12 by Iowa-based Selzer & Co.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-07-17/americans-feel-good-about-the-economy-not-so-good-about-trump-j57v0var

Philippines: Year of Duterte’s dystopian vision

July 4, 2017
Over the course of his first 12 months as president, Rodrigo Duterte jabbered about the scourge of drugs unprovoked, repeating the same ideas.

This piece is a part of a news analysis series on the first 12 months of the Duterte administration.

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s language was surprising and even shocking, before it became predictable.

He would stand behind a podium and halfheartedly read part of a speech written for him. Then he would proceed with an impromptu about the enormity of the drug problem (there are 4 million drug addicts, he claimed, with little evidence), the threat of drug users to communities (drugs makes them animals, he said, but this is not backed by science) or drug money fueling politics and crime (his political foe, Leila de Lima, sits in jail over drug-related accusations).

He simplistically described narcotics as driving complex problems of corruption and terrorism, popularizing portmanteaus “narco-terrorism,” “narco-politicians” and “narco-list,” an intel document on officials linked to the trade.

While not grieving the killing of thousands in his drug war, he lamented the “everyday” death of cops, despite police data recording far fewer casualties on their end.

Philstar.com‘s research shows that Duterte mentioned illegal drugs in 247 of 304 of his public remarks since he became president in June last year. In his hour-long State of the Nation Address that July alone, he made reference to drugs 23 times.

Over the course of his first 12 months as president, Duterte jabbered about the scourge of drugs unprovoked, repeating the same ideas. He did so while abroad before top officials. And he did the same while addressing outstanding Filipino awardees, typhoon victims or young athletes.

Perpetuating myths, changing definitions

After all, it was the story that got him elected.

Duterte declared that the country is in the grip of a drug crisis, whose urgent solution comes in his campaign promise of a bloody war.

Sociologist Nicole Curato of the University of Canberra argued that populist Duterte’s “dystopian narrative” shifted the discussion during the campaign. It muted those of his opponent, particularly Jejomar Binay and Grace Poe’s platforms for personal dignity.

For Curato, Duterte’s political style makes use of a “language of crisis” drawn from the public’s fear of the real and imagined “other,” in this case, drug users.

“I argue that part of the reason for this narrative’s success has to do with the latent anxiety already existing in the public sphere,” Curato wrote in the “Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs” earlier this year.

This latent anxiety, Curato wrote, was communities’ distress over the commonplace use of illegal drugs. They see the problem—though possibly not as grave on a national scale—up close. But this distress, she said, remains in the background, “mundane but still worrisome, publicized but not politicized.” Until Duterte ran and won.

What ensued were police operations which so far killed at least 5,000 suspects of mostly poor males without benefit of a trial, and thousands of others slayed by vigilantes the government denies backing.

Duterte faced a flurry of criticisms from international human rights organizations and international bodies such as the European Union, culminating at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review in Geneva where states urged a halt in the killings and called for thorough investigations.

ALSO READ: Cayetano uses restrictive EJK definition, experts say

Backed by popular support, Duterte and his officials stood their ground and stoked public anxiety, arguing that the UN’s defense of the war’s drug-crazed targets is a disregard for the human rights of their victims who could be raped or massacred.

Human rights, which by definition should apply to all, ceased to be universal for the administration. Scientifically backed solutions to the drug problem proposed, consequently, failed to catch on.

“While some critics raised issues about human rights and due process, these issues—as far as my respondents were concerned—were secondary to the more pressing dangers they face every day,” wrote Curato, who documented political participation of typhoon victims in Tacloban City who supported Duterte.

Unexpected repercussions

There were more costs to Duterte’s worrisome but politically successful narrative.

Drugs and crime do not appear to be the most urgent concerns of Filipinos, yet President Duterte’s narrative prevails in the political arena. Data from Pulse Asia March 2017 survey.

Excess mandate and a promise of protection fed police corruption and abuse. It was cops who apparently abducted Jee Ick-joo, a Korean businessman, in October last year. He was said to have been killed inside the Philippine National Police’s headquarters in Quezon City, a detail acknowledged by the Philippines’ top cop Ronald dela Rosa.

In another telling case, a mayor detained for alleged links to the drug trade was shot dead inside his jail cell. The cops who did it claimed that Rolando Espinosa fought back and that killing him was an act of self-defense. National Bureau of Investigation findings, however, pointed to a rubout. Duterte publicly defended the cops. Later, the Department of Justice downgraded the murder charges to homicide.

The bloody drug war also emboldened non-state parties to use Duterte’s name in storming into homes or committing robbery.

Efforts to defend Duterte’s drug narrative have gone the distance. The firebrand leader fired his appointed drug policy official for daring to cite a scientific study that belies the president’s claims on drug prevalence.

To counter the press’ findings that data does not support the drug war, Cabinet officials launched the “Real Numbers” campaign. The numbers, in the end, did not seem to be so real.

Besides thousands of killings and tactics to cover up and justify, the country’s healthier bilateral ties also took a hit from Duterte’s cause.

In September, President Barack Obama called on Duterte to deal with the Philippines’ drug woes “the right way,” while the European Union called for a stop to extrajudicial killings in the drug war and condemned a bill reviving the death penalty against drug criminals.

Duterte shot back with a “s** of a w****” remark against Obama and a “f*** y**” (flashing the middle finger twice) to the EU. He would go on in October to announce in Beijing that he is separating from the US. He soon after walked back his statements, but later canceled the annual US-Philippines war games.

Political analyst Dindo Manhit, president of think tank ADR Institute, said there wasn’t a single turning point in the cooling off of US-Philippines relations over the past year. But Washington’s critical view of the drug war did not help.

“The United States’ (and other international actors’) lack of support for the president’s approach to the drug war was likely one important factor. This administration feels strongly about the war on drugs, which was one of its most public initiatives and a personal cause of the president,” Manhit told Philstar.com.

By May, the government got the chance to hit back at the EU. It ended development funding from the bloc, claiming that aid from new friends such as China could make up for the loss. This has yet to be seen.

As Duterte enters his second year as president, it is uncertain where the drug narrative will go, and how much of a toll it will have on democratic institutions and principles.

Still, there is more to the Philippines than meets the eye. Forms of quiet resistance sprang up in response to the dominant political theme.

“I think counter-narratives (to the drug story) will thrive in less overt, less spectacular places. For example, various parishes have quietly helped ‘tokhang’ families by taking them on, burying the dead, etc. These are quiet ways of helping,” sociologist Curato told Philstar.com.

Away from the cacophony, there are possibly more small but humane efforts attending to social wrongs the drug war is supposed to be addressing. These are “not necessarily political but responsive to the injustice the government perpetuates,” Curato said. — Graphics by RP Ocampo

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/07/04/1715996/year-dutertes-dystopian-vision

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 (The Philippines seems to be siding with China, Russia and Iran)

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Discarded — The body of a dead Filipino girl — killed in President Duterte’s war on drugs — looks like it has been put out with the trash….. Presidential spokeman Abella said the war on drugs is for the next generation of Filipinos.
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) talks to Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa. AFP photo

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Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa

Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kine also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”

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Philippines Policeman found tortured and strangled after some fellow police said he was involved in the illegal drug trade. Photo Credit Boy Cruz

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/07/08/1600763/cop-linked-drugs-tortured-killed

 (December 23, 2016)

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 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

 (Philippine Star, December 1, 2016)

“They are afraid the incident could cause President Duterte to declare martial law. I talked with some sultans and ulamas and elders here… and that’s what they have told me,” Ponyo said.

 (November 30, 2016)

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High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo, Jean-Marc Ferré

Summary executions of supposed drug dealers and other criminals have become a common occurence in recent weeks. The STAR/Joven Cagande, file

 (November 16, 2016)

 (August 10, 2016)

Davao City’s Ronald dela Rosa has been appointed to become the next chief of the Philippine National Police to lead President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s planned crackdown on illegal drugs. Facebook/Dela Rosa
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Crime scene investigators examine a vehicle used by two drug suspects killed during an alleged shootout with officers along NIA Road in Quezon City on June 21, 2016. JOVEN CAGANDE/file
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President Rodrigo Duterte's crusade against drug users and dealers is controversial

Workers burying cadavers in various stages of decomposition in a mass grave in Manila, after health officials recovered the cadavers from Henry's Funeral Home. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.

Workers burying cadavers in various stages of decomposition in a mass grave in Manila, after health officials recovered the cadavers from Henry’s Funeral Home. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.Source:AFP

A worker arranging cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry's Funeral Homes in Manila. Picture: AFP/ Noel Celis.

A worker arranging cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry’s Funeral Homes in Manila. Picture: AFP/ Noel Celis.Source:AFP

Health officials closed Henry's Funeral Home after recovering at least 120 unclaimed and rotting cadavers in Manila. The city health department conducted a surprise raid after receiving complaints about a foul odour coming from the funeral parlour. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.

Health officials closed Henry’s Funeral Home after recovering at least 120 unclaimed and rotting cadavers in Manila. The city health department conducted a surprise raid after receiving complaints about a foul odour coming from the funeral parlour. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.Source:AFP

Workers carrying cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry's Funeral Homes in Manila, October 2016. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.

Workers carrying cadavers in various stages of decomposition at the morgue of Henry’s Funeral Homes in Manila, October 2016. Picture: AFP / Noel Celis.Source:AFP

China’s Xi tells Hong Kong he seeks ‘far-reaching future’ for its autonomy — New York Times Says This Is A City In Trouble

June 29, 2017

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China’s President Xi Jinping (second from right) is greeted by well-wishers upon his arrival at Hong Kong’s international airport on Jun 29, 2017 as Hong Kong’s outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (third from right) and incoming leader Carrie Lam (right) follow. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

HONG KONG: Chinese president Xi Jinping said on Thursday (Jun 29) China would work to ensure a “far-reaching future” for Hong Kong’s autonomy, but he faces a divided city with protesters angered by Beijing’s perceived interference as it marks 20 years of Chinese rule.

Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on Jul 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula which guarantees wide-ranging freedoms and judicial independence unseen in mainland China.

Beijing has promised Hong Kong’s capitalist system will remain unchanged for “at least” 50 years until 2047, but it has not clarified what happens after that.

“Hong Kong has always tugged at my heartstrings,” Xi said on arrival at Hong Kong airport for the handover anniversary in front of flag-waving crowds at the start of a three-day visit.

“… We are willing, together with different sectors of Hong Kong society, to look back on Hong Kong’s unusual course in the past 20 years, draw conclusions from the experience, look into the future and to ensure ‘one country, two systems’ is stable and has a far-reaching future.”

Xi’s message was consistent with those of other senior Chinese leaders visiting Hong Kong, that Beijing will safeguard the city’s development and prosperity.

In reality, however, fears of the creeping influence of Communist Party leaders in Beijing have been starkly exposed in recent years by the abduction by mainland agents of some Hong Kong booksellers who specialized in politically sensitive material and Beijing’s efforts in disqualifying two pro-independence lawmakers elected to the city legislature.

Xi did not respond to journalists, including one who asked whether Liu Xiaobo, China’s Nobel Peace Laureate and jailed dissident, would be released and allowed to travel overseas to be treated for cancer.

Speaking later, Xi praised Hong Kong’s outgoing leader, Leung Chun-ying, who cracked down hard on pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, for his substantial contributions to the country, “especially safeguarding national security”.

“These past five years have not been easy at all,” Xi added.

He urged officials to support incoming leader Carrie Lam, who will be sworn in on Saturday, and contribute to the “China dream”.

An annual Jul 1 protest pressing social causes, including a call for full democracy, is expected to take place after Xi leaves on Saturday. On Wednesday night, police arrested several well-known pro-democracy activists, some of whom scrambled up a monument symbolizing the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule.

Among them was student leader Joshua Wong, who said on his Facebook page on Thursday his detention for more than 16 hours was highly unusual and police had yet to take his statement.

HONG KONG “HAS BEEN LIED TO”

Part of the major rift under Chinese rule in Hong Kong has been a push by activists, including the 2014 street protests, to get China to live up to a constitutional promise under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution to allow universal suffrage as an “ultimate aim”.

“This promise has been shattered under the watchful eyes of the whole world,” organizers of Saturday’s planned rally wrote in a statement. “Hong Kong has been lied to for 20 years. Let’s retake Hong Kong for a real and fully fledged democracy.”

A massive security presence is expected with thousands of police deployed to maintain order as protests simmer.

At least 200 protesters sat in sweltering heat outside Hong Kong’s highest court on Thursday night to demand the release of dissident Liu.

“Xi Jinping should release Liu Xiaobo,” said Annie Tam, who watched as her six-year-old son held a candle. “I respect Liu very much. He really is sacrificing himself for democracy.”

The streets of Hong Kong have been festooned with Chinese banners and paraphernalia, including two huge harbourfront screens carrying celebratory messages. Upwards of 120,000 youngsters will join China patriotic activities at a time of growing disillusionment with Beijing among the city’s younger generation.

“We … just hope our people can live in peace and contentment,” said Lee Wing-lung, 66, a retired engineer standing opposite the hotel where Xi is staying, taking snapshots with his phone.

“I hope Hong Kong can have a good and peaceful atmosphere.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in London Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress toward democracy.

“As we look to the future, Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress toward a fully democratic and accountable system of government,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Britain’s commitment to Hong Kong – enshrined in the Joint Declaration with China – is just as strong today as it was 20 years ago.”

Many observers point out that the British did nothing to promote democracy until the dying days of more than 150 years of colonial rule. Britain, looking for new trade partners as Brexit approaches, is also keen not to upset China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, told the Guardian newspaper British “kowtowing” to China would become increasingly craven after Brexit.

Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/china-s-xi-tells-hong-kong-he-seeks-far-reaching-future-for-its-8989586

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Once a Model City, Hong Kong Is in Trouble

June 29, 2017

HONG KONG — When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule two decades ago, the city was seen as a model of what China might one day become: prosperous, modern, international, with the broad protections of the rule of law.

There was anxiety about how such a place could survive in authoritarian China. But even after Beijing began encroaching on this former British colony’s freedoms, its reputation as one of the best-managed cities in Asia endured.

The trains ran on time. Crime and taxes were low. The skyline dazzled with ever taller buildings.

Those are still true. Yet as the 20th anniversary of the handover approaches on Saturday, that perception of Hong Kong as something special — a vibrant crossroads of East and West that China might want to emulate — is fading fast.

Never-ending disputes between the city’s Beijing-backed leadership and the pro-democracy opposition have crippled the government’s ability to make difficult decisions and complete important construction projects.

Caught between rival modes of rule — Beijing’s dictates and the demands of local residents — the authorities have allowed problems to fester, including an affordable housing crisis, a troubled education system and a delayed high-speed rail line.

Many say the fight over Hong Kong’s political future has paralyzed it, and perhaps doomed it to decline. As a result, the city is increasingly held up not as a model of China’s future but as a cautionary tale — for Beijing and its allies, of the perils of democracy, and for the opposition, of the perils of authoritarianism.

Vendors selling secondhand clothing and goods in Sham Shui Po, one of the city’s poorest areas.

 

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Rush hour on the MTR, Hong Kong’s clean and efficient subway system.

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“More and more, there is a sense of futility,” said Anson Chan, the second-highest official in the Hong Kong government in the years before and after the handover to Chinese rule. She blames Beijing’s interference for the city’s woes. “We have this enormous giant at our doorstep,” she said, “and the rest of the world does not seem to question whatever the enormous giant does.”

Others spread the blame more broadly. They point to the opposition’s reluctance to compromise and policies that weaken political parties, including multiseat legislative districts that allow radical candidates to win with a minority of votes.

“This kind of a political atmosphere will disrupt many of the initiatives that may come along,” said Anna Wu, a member of the territory’s executive council, or cabinet.

A high-speed rail station planned for Hong Kong is a half-finished shell — years after every other major city in China has been linked by bullet trains.

Hong Kong ranks only after New York and London as a center of global finance, but it has no world-class museums. After 15 years of delays, construction of a cultural district intended to rival Lincoln Center has started, but funding from the legislature could be disrupted in the coming days.

Widespread complaints about test-obsessed schools leaving students ill-equipped to compete against those in mainland China have not led to education reform. Nor has the government found a way to address simmering public anger over skyrocketing rents and housing prices.

Hong Kong was once known for the speed and efficiency with which it built huge planned communities with ample public housing every several years. But it has not managed to do so since Britain returned it to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997.

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A Better Direction for Black Lives Matter

June 28, 2017

Marching in San Francisco’s Pride Parade, June 25.

Marching in San Francisco’s Pride Parade, June 25. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
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Rather than scapegoat police, why not focus on bad schools and job-killing regulations?

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The Wall Street Journal
June 28, 2017

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Will Black Lives Matter soon suffer the fate of other separatist “black power” movements in the 1920s and 1960s, which captured America’s attention for a period but ultimately did little to help advance the black underclass?

The Black Lives Matter movement got its start after George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin and found its footing a year later when Michael Brown was shot dead after attacking a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. By 2016, BLM activists were being hosted by President Obama and disrupting campaign events for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Today, major news organizations such at National Public Radio and the Washington Post turn to BLM representatives for comment on race-related stories.

An obituary for a movement that has become so prominent so fast seems premature, but a recent BuzzFeed article that included interviews with dozens of BLM-linked activists was pessimistic about the group’s future. Factions have formed, infighting is common and objectives are unclear. “Black Lives Matter is still here. Its groups are still organizing. But Black Lives Matter is on the verge of losing the traction and momentum that sparked a national shift on criminal justice policy,” wrote reporter Darren Sands. And “activists largely agreed that the identity of the movement, its existential purpose and aim, remains unresolved.”

Some BLM leaders want to integrate political institutions further. Others want the organization to expand its focus to immigrants’ rights. Still others want to create a society “free from pain being inflicted on it by police, racist structures, and capitalism.” Apparently, there are places in the world where blacks living in noncapitalist societies are thriving in comparison with their U.S. brethren.

On a certain level, the decision by BLM activists to single out policing as a major obstacle to black advancement has always defied comprehension. Police shootings have fallen dramatically in recent decades. In New York City, for example, cops shot 314 people in 1971, 93 of them fatally. In 2015, New York police shot 23 people, killing eight. Which means that police shootings and fatalities in the nation’s most populous city have declined by more than 90% over the past 4½ decades. A 2016 paper released by Harvard economist Roland Fryer examined the use of force by police since 2000 in some of the country’s largest urban areas and found that “blacks are 23.8 percent less likely to be shot at by police relative to whites.”

In theory, there is no reason these activists couldn’t play a more useful role in helping blacks overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities that were unavailable to previous generations. But that would mean abandoning nonsensical narratives that scapegoat law enforcement for high black crime rates and instead picking more substantive fights with fellow progressives.

Why not side with the hundreds of thousands of black children nationwide who linger on waiting lists for charter schools that have a proven record of narrowing the achievement gap? Why side with progressive politicians who stunt the growth of charters out of deference to powerful teachers unions that oppose school choice?

A University of Illinois at Chicago paper released earlier this month reports that 85% of black teenagers in Chicago are out of work, versus 73.4% of whites. Among 20- to 24-year-olds, the black jobless rate is 60%, or more than double the rate for comparable whites. In 2014, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel approved legislation that raises the minimum wage in increments by more than 57% by 2018. Studies have long shown that younger and less experienced workers are particularly sensitive to rises in the wage floor. And even minimum-wage hikes that don’t put people out of work can leave them worse off.

A new National Bureau of Economic Research report looked at the consequences of Seattle’s decision to raise its minimum wage to $13 last year from $9.47 in 2015. The researchers concluded that the increase “reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016.” When are BLM activists going to take the Democrats to task for promoting policies that harm minority workers disproportionately? When the unemployment rate for black teens reaches 100%?

Of course, improving educational and employment prospects for the black underclass would lower black crime rates and thus go a long way toward reducing encounters with police, the goal that is so near and dear to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a win-win, but first the activists have to decide whether the real goal is to help black people or to help themselves.

Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-better-direction-for-black-lives-matter-1498604674

What We Need—and Don’t Need—From Government in the Robot Age

June 22, 2017
Michael R. Bloomberg on how to think about wages, health insurance, and education in the wake of technological advances.
 
June 22, 2017, 5:00 AM EDT
A robotic arm transports sheets of glass during the manufacturing of photovoltaic cells at SolarWorld AG in Freiberg, Germany.

PHOTOGRAPHER: MARTIN LEISSL/BLOOMBERG

Capitalism has brought opportunity to billions of people around the world and reduced poverty and disease on a monumental scale. Driving that progress have been advances in knowledge and technology that disrupt industries and create new ones. We celebrate market disruptions for the overall benefits they generate, but they also present challenges to workers whose skills are rendered obsolete.

Today, as the age of automation affects more industries, those challenges are affecting more and more people. Attempting to slow the pace of technological change to preserve particular jobs is neither possible nor desirable, and there may be no better example than in the energy industry.

In the 1920s more than 800,000 Americans worked in the coal mines. Many developed debilitating and deadly health problems. In 2008 national coal production peaked, yet technology had cut the number of jobs by 90 percent.

Today, as consumers turn to cleaner and cheaper sources of energy, the societal benefits are widespread: Deaths from coal pollution have dropped 40 percent, and jobs in the renewable energy industry have soared. But this trend has also left coal miners, whose numbers have dwindled, in difficult positions, particularly since their employers have been walking away from their pension and health-care obligations.

We can both embrace the societal benefits of technological change and confront the challenges it poses for individual workers and their communities—but only if we expect government leaders to look forward instead of backward and to develop effective responses rather than pitting groups against one another.

There are no panaceas, including the idea that the wealthy should pay more in taxes, with the money redistributed to support those who lose jobs—which I’m not averse to, if the money is spent wisely. But work is an important part of what gives our lives meaning and direction. Giving people a check isn’t the same as giving them an opportunity to pursue their ambitions and fulfill their potential. Industriousness, and the chance to shape your own destiny, has always been a critical part of what’s made America an exceptional nation.

Finding more ways to reward and encourage work will be essential to coping with automation. The Earned Income Tax Credit is one way to do that. It’s effectively a wage subsidy for low-income earners—and expanding it, or using other subsidies to encourage employment as we do with investment, may become increasingly necessary.

It may even be that governments will experiment with direct employment programs, putting Americans to work performing jobs that produce some public benefits, however limited. Whatever the approach—and all have their costs—keeping working-age adults in the labor market, rather than them sitting at home, is a goal worth pursuing.

Disruption from automation will also have an impact on Americans’ health. Some 150 million Americans get health insurance through their work. Employer-sponsored health insurance is an accident of history—businesses began offering the benefit as a way around World War II wage controls—and the Affordable Care Act left the system largely in place. One way to mitigate the harmful effects on workers who lose their jobs would be to de-link health insurance from employment to ensure that everyone can receive care when they need it, including when they are between jobs or unable to find one.

We will also have to rethink our approach to education, which follows an antiquated model: School years are based on an agricultural economy that required children to work the fields during the summer months. Education laws stifle innovation and parental choice. And vocational training programs are based on an industrial past, turning off many students who might opt for such programs and often leaving those who do enroll ill-prepared for careers.

At the same time, community colleges too often saddle students with debt without doing enough to ensure they earn a degree and marketable skills. And continuing education and training programs, which could help save adults from getting locked out of the evolving labor market, are often divorced from the needs of employers.

There will always be politicians making promises the market won’t allow them to keep. But to spread the benefits of the age of automation far and wide, we’ll need more cooperation among government, business, education, and philanthropic leaders.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-22/what-we-need-and-don-t-need-from-government-in-the-robot-age

Nigeria’s Buhari absent on second anniversary as president

May 29, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent president at the ballot box

ABUJA (AFP) – 

Nigeria’s ailing president was glaringly absent on Monday as his deputy marked their two years in power, with no word on the head of state’s health three weeks after he went on indefinite medical leave.

Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy Yemi Osinbajo were sworn into office on May 29, 2015, two months after securing the first opposition victory against a sitting president in Nigerian history.

But their election pledges to defeat Boko Haram Islamists and tackle endemic corruption have been overshadowed, first by economic recession and increasingly by speculation about Buhari’s health.

The 74-year-old former military ruler spent nearly two months being treated for an undisclosed illness in London in January and February.

He left for a fresh round of treatment in the British capital on May 7 and has not been heard from or seen since.

Rumours swirled that he may send a pre-recorded message to the nation for Monday’s public holiday.

But Osinbajo said only in a speech: “I bring you good wishes from President Muhammadu Buhari, who as we all know is away from the country on medical vacation.”

He ended by asking for people’s “continued prayers for the restoration to full health and strength and the safe return of our president”.

– Elephant in the room –

Buhari’s health — and his ability to lead — has increasingly overshadowed politics in Nigeria, particularly in the last three weeks because of the lack of update.

Presidential aides told reporters at a briefing in Abuja last week that they would not even answer questions about it.

But Buhari did not attend a G7 summit in Sicily last week, although he was among several African leaders invited. Osinbajo went in his place.

During his time in London earlier this year, they insisted Buhari was “hale and hearty”, despite his increasingly frail appearance, and had to counter rumours he was terminally ill and even dead.

Buhari himself admitted on his return to Abuja in March that he “had never been so sick” and had undergone blood transfusions.

Since then, he was rarely seen in public, missed a succession of cabinet meetings, Friday prayers and his grandson’s wedding.

Aides again insisted he was working from his private residence on doctors’ orders.

As well as political uncertainty, despite the formal handover of powers to Osinbajo, Buhari’s illness has triggered an earlier-than-usual jostling for position for the 2019 election and talk about succession.

– ‘Democracy Day’ –

May 29 — known as “Democracy Day” for the date civilian rule was restored in Nigeria in 1999 — has typically been used by the government of the day to run through a checklist of its achievements.

Osinbajo was no different, pointing to successes in weakening Boko Haram jihadists in the northeast and the release, rescue or discovery of 106 of the 219 Chibok schoolgirls held by the group since 2014.

Buhari was last seen in a photocall with 82 of the girls just before he left for London.

Osinbajo also outlined progress tackling security threats from militants in the oil-producing south, and conflict between farmers and herdsmen in central states.

He also reaffirmed the government’s determination to root out corruption and vowed no let-up against suspects.

He acknowledged the economy had been “the biggest challenge of all”, because of sustained low global oil prices that cut government revenue, leading to a weakened currency and higher inflation.

Nigeria, which is Africa’s biggest economy on paper, has been in recession since August last year.

Osinbajo pledged to “build on the successes of the last two” years until the end of their time in office.

“Our vision is for a country that grows what it eats and produces what it consumes. It is for a country that no longer has to import petroleum products, and develops a lucrative petrochemical industry,” he said.

“Very importantly it is for a country whose fortunes are no longer tied to the price of a barrel of crude, but instead to the boundless talent and energy of its people, young and old, male and female as they invest in diverse areas of the economy.”

Trump Takes Aim at White House Leaks

May 28, 2017

Tweets are first time president has weighed in on reports over Kushner, Russia

Mr. Trump is discussing major changes in the White House, including having lawyers vet his tweets and shaking up his top staff.

Mr. Trump is discussing major changes in the White House, including having lawyers vet his tweets and shaking up his top staff. PHOTO:JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

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Updated May 28, 2017 11:34 a.m. ET

President Trump on Sunday morning released a flurry of online posts taking aim at White House leaks that have kept the investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia in the news.

His remarks were the first time he had weighed in since reports surfaced that his top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had considered setting up a secret communications line with Russia during the presidential transition to discuss the country’s military operations in Syria and other issues.

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” Mr. Trump, who just returned from his first foreign trip, said on Twitter. “Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names….it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”

Mr. Trump is discussing major changes in the White House, including having lawyers vet his tweets and shaking up his top staff, as he grapples with the fallout from probes into his campaign’s dealings with Russia, according to several senior administration officials and outside advisers.

Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election.

The president’s demand for scrutiny into the leaks, while calling them “fake news,” has been a staple of what has been conflicting responses by the White House to a damaging series of news reports about his campaign’s ties to Russia. The Trump administration has denied any collusion with Russia.

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said, “I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared” in reference to reports that Mr. Kushner discussed setting up secret communications with Russia.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NBC News regarding the allegations regarding Mr. Kushner: “I will tell you that my dashboard warning light was clearly on, and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community—very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians.”

Mr. Kelly was also asked about British Prime Minister Theresa May’s complaints that the U.S. was the source of intelligence leaks after the suicide bombing in Manchester that left 22 people dead and injured dozens more.

“It’s borderline, if not over the line of treason” to leak highly classified information from foreign intelligence, Mr. Kelly said. “I think it’s darn close to treason.”

Some Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, are calling for a review of Mr. Kushner’s security clearance. “You have to ask, who are they hiding the conversations from?” he said in an interview with ABC News.

But both Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), meantime, expressed skepticism about the Kushner disclosure.

A Washington Post article last week said that Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak reported to Moscow that Mr. Kushner wanted to make use of Russian diplomatic facilities to open back-channel communications.

Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer for Mr. Kushner, previously said in a statement about Mr. Kushner’s meetings with Russians: “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Asked by Fox News if Mr. Kushner should lose his security clearance, Mr. Durbin said, “Of course not. This a rumor at this point.” He added that he was confident that the newly appointed special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, would get to the bottom of what happened.

Mr. Graham, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said, “I don’t trust this story as far as I can throw it.”

“I think it makes no sense the Russian ambassador would report back to Moscow on a channel that he most likely knows we’re monitoring,” Mr. Graham said. “The whole story line is suspicious.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Mr. Trump’s most outspoken surrogates outside of the White House, said the president’s trip to the Middle East and Europe and his domestic agenda should take center stage.

“They were disciplined. They were strategic,” Mr. Gingrich said of the trip on Fox News. “I hope they’ll come home focused on jobs, health, infrastructure…and shove to one side of all of this garbage.”

Write to Beth Reinhard at beth.reinhard@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

 

Is Islamic extremism on the rise in Africa?

May 28, 2017

Extremists are increasingly shaping the image of Islam in Africa. But despite warnings that Islam is becoming increasingly conservative in Africa, experts say Islam is becoming more diverse as a whole.

Somalia Al-Shabaab fighters (picture alliance/AP Photo/F. A. Warsameh)

Over and over one reads the same disturbing reports: In Somalia, members of the al-Shabaab militia cut off the hands of two alleged thieves. In the capital Mogadishu three solders were killed while trying to diffuse a bomb. Meanwhile in West Africa there are renewed clashes between the Nigerian Army and Boko Haram.

Even though their overall strength has deteriorated over the last few years, Islamic extremist groups in Africa continue to make headlines. “Groups that we call jihadists are actually backtracking, or have suffered heavy military defeats,” Göttingen anthropologist Professor Roman Loimeier told DW. But they clearly still have the potential to carry out devastating attacks. And although violent Islamists make up only a fraction of the overall Muslim population in Africa, they represent broader radical trends in Islam.

Approximately 43 percent of all Africans consider themselves Muslim and the continent has a reputation for religious tolerance. According to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, “Islam in West Africa has evolved somewhat differently from the Middle East, having been influenced by pre-existing African traditions. It is characterized by tolerance and nonviolence.”

The Great Mosque built of mud, founded in the 16th century (picture-alliance/Tuul/Robert Harding)Many countries in Africa are well-known for their religious tolerance due to their diverse traditions

Failed states ideal breeding grounds for extremism

But has this reputation changed? Anthropologist Abdoulaye Sounaye from the Leibniz Center of Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO) says there has been a rise in radical Islamic groups in Africa since the 1990s.

“Radical Islam has become even more important in political, cultural, social and even economic life,” Sounaye told DW. However not everybody who adheres to conservative Islam is longing for power, or supports the use of violence.

One of the main reasons for the rise of conservatism is the ongoing political and social crises in many African states. Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, the wave of democratization also reached many parts of Africa. Long-time rulers and military dictators eventually responded to ongoing pressure to establish proper democratic systems. But many of these new democracies suffered under rampant corruption, mismanagement and confidence in the state system.

This in turn created a space for more radial religious thought. “Salafism is a revolutionary idea which can be attractive to certain social groups like young people or women who reject the state,” says Sounaye. And in some cases where the state failed to protect and support its people, these groups offered help. Sounaye refers in particular to the so-called “prosperity gospel” of Salafist groups.

“They have, for example, raised money for all sorts of projects: schools, colleges, hospitals and so on. These social services have provided Salafi organizations in the region with a platform to become popular.”

Their popularity is also made possible thanks to generous donations from rich Islamic states like Saudi Arabia. The kingdom follows a strict interpretation of the Koran known as Wahhabism. Such donations allow conservative African Islamic groups to finance mosques, charities and even spread their message using the media sector.

A diverse religion

However, experts like Loimeier point out that Islam in Africa is not necessarily seeing a rising trend towards conservatism, as a number of other more progressive movements begin to emerge. “Muslim societies and Islam in sub-Saharan Africa are becoming more diverse,” he says, “there is a wide range of reform movements among Sufis, which focus on making their faith more transparent and encouraging women to go to school.”

But the Loimeier also warned of the potential for Islamic extremist groups to emerge alongside Boko Haram, Ansar Dine or al-Shabaab – especially in authoritarian states. “In these countries, Islam has become a symbol of rebellion which is on the side of those who have been oppressed or unjustly treated – an ideal foundation for the beginning of a radical movement.”

He says Ethiopia may be one to watch. “The regime has made a few regrettable mistakes in the last few years. Radical groups are ready to emerge and could be given significant support by the population if the situation does not improve.”

http://www.dw.com/en/is-islamic-extremism-on-the-rise-in-africa/a-39001070