Archive for January, 2009


Quote: American Debt circa 1800 v. Today

January 30, 2009

There is a lot of talk about U.S. running massive trillion dollar deficits in the years ahead, and how this is empowering China. Certainly, Beijing is developing a strong hold over Washington and history suggests there will be repercussions for this debt relationship. Still, it is lost that this is a two-way street.

While reading the highly enjoyable Old World, New World, by Kathleen Burk (by chance, she was my professor at UCL, so I don’t know how objective my endorsement is), I was struck by a great quote.

In 1800, the U.S. was massively in debt to Britain — around 50 percent of U.S. debt was held by London and even the king had some. As relations soured in the lead up to the War of 1812, Henry Dundas, British Secretary for War, said something I believe the Chinese can sympathize with: “The Americans are egregiously in the wrong, but they are so much in debt to this country that we scarcely dare to quarrel with them.”

Today, the Chinese are sitting on nearly $2 trillion in U.S. reserves, and doesn’t want those assets to loss their value. They might think Americans are “in the wrong” for their lax regulation and irresponsibility, which Beijing claims sparked the crisis. But they don’t want to worry the market by taking aggressive policy stances with the U.S. — particularly on trade and currency issues — or dump them. Either action would risk damaging their assets.

Add to this equation the Obama Administration greater assertiveness in confronting Beijing over the renminbi, I wonder how much the Chinese will “dare to quarrel.”

(Then again I don’t know how reassuring this quote is since the British razed Washington DC to the ground.)

By Mark C. Partridge


Pass it on!

January 30, 2009

Behind the Great Firewall of China

A Chain-letter Manifesto

Woman protests censurship before a Great Firewall of China in Sydney. Grass-roots cyber dissent in China takes on an entirely different dynamic.

Woman protests censorship before a "Great Firewall of China" in Sydney. Grass-roots cyber-dissent in China takes on an entirely different dynamic.

With annual growth tapering off, the regime is increasingly concerned about the destabilizing presence of jobless young people, many of them educated, in its urban centers. This may explain why grass-roots cyber-dissent and efforts to stamp it out are picking up steam. The pro-democratic Charter 08 is an example of this cyber-dissent and is drawing, albeit cautiously, people from all rungs of Chinese society. They are connecting on blogs, message boards, profiles, and other New Media behind the Great Firewall.

Click here for article


Congolese warlord in first trial of the International Criminal Court
Somalia’s parliament moves to include moderate Islamists

Venezuela in defiance tests inter-American system
Not without opposition, new Bolivian constitution empowers Indians

Korean friction, North cancels deals
Sri Lankan military fighting remaining Tamil Tigers

EU willing but not yet committed to accepting Guantanamo detainees
Investigative journalism under siege in Russia

Israeli West Bank settlement up 69% in 2008
Turkey’s coup probe, trial of the century

By Shawn Woodley


Black Thursday

January 29, 2009

Public and private sector workers staged a nationwide strike on "Black Thursday" to try to force President Nicolas Sarkozy and business leaders to do more to protect jobs and wages during the economic crisis.

The “Black Thursday” general strike in France protested the government’s handling of the economic crisis. The 36 hour strike involved between 1 million (Ministry of the Interior reports) and 2.5 million (Union officials report) transit workers, private sector workers, and civil servants. Their growing concerns centered on labor and economic issues including low salaries, job insecurity, and President Sarkozy’s economic stimulus plan which the unions say is not enough. Public transit, which ran three quarters of its subways, buses and train on a regular schedule, was most disrupted in the suburbs leading some observers to have mixed feelings on the impact of the strike.

Click here for the article


Say you’re sorry!

January 28, 2009
He demands an apology.

He demands an apology.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered his first public address since President Barack Obama’s inauguration last week and Obama’s own approach to the Muslim world this week. Ahmadinejad suggested today that the “change” which Obama promised in his campaign means that the leader must apologize for U.S. “crimes” against Iran, including American support for the 1953 coup in Tehran, and the backing of Iraq during the war between Iraq and Iran.

Click here for article


We Are All in Agreement

January 27, 2009


St. Petersburg, Russia: Mocking the slogans of pro-government youth groups such as ‘Ours’ and the ‘Young Guards,’ about 40 participants decided to hold a “March of Agreement” rally on January 25 in St. Petersburg. Marchers were shouting slogans that made fun of the government’s trademark phrases, ordinarily designed to show an ‘acceptable’ level of discontent and exemplify Russia’s high level of democracy. During the mock-protest, police did not see so much humour in the demonstration, and four people were briefly detained and then released.

Some of the slogans went much like this:

“Yes to Higher Prices!!!”

“Yes to the 12-Hour Workday!”

“Let’s Raise Housing Fees!”

“We Agree with All!”

“Life Became Better, Life Became Joyful!!!”

“More Work, Less Pay!”

“Crisis, Crisis Goes!”

All such posters were wrapped, as is the tendency in pro-government rallies, in Russia’s traditional symbols and flags. Also reflecting their “official” counterparts, there was a bit of religious imagery on display as well. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Transport Minister Igor Levitin were shown in portraits with halos above their heads and in saintly poses.

Flying the Russian flag above all this gave offense to the police; allegedly the organizer of the demonstration is being held for “dishonouring the Russian flag.”

The Russian government, no doubt, wants to eliminate all sources from which it could be made a mockery of, even if some of their pro-government phraseology invites such humour. Nevertheless, it is useful to note that the long tradition of sardonic humour is alive and well in Russian society, and that it is finding an outlet even under the very nose of the authoritarian nature of Russia’s government. No longer can such protestors be exiled to Siberia for years as in Soviet times. Now, they can hopefully only be detained for a few hours (except for the poor organizer of the event, whose fate is presently unknown).

By Jason Vaughn


Talk of Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula

January 24, 2009

Whispers really. In his meeting with a Chinese envoy, the first since his stroke, Kim Jong-il singled a desire to denuclearize (presumably hoping to secure substantial conciliations in any six-party talks). As President Obama and Secretary Clinton review policy on North Korea, they have singled, in response, a willingness to talk. If this openness and warmth sounds unlike Kim, bear in mind that none of these comments were reported inside North Korea. Actually, Pyongyang said last week that it would wipe South Korea off the face of the Earth.

Click here for article

Rebel Leader Netted by Rwandan Backers

The Castros Have a Crush on Obama

Thailand Sending Asylum Seekers Out to Sea
Sign of the Times, Malaysians Ban Foreign Hiring

Detained Immigrants Break Out on Italian Island
Ukraine in the Red
May Default on its Debt
Europe Anxious as Ukraine Revisits Gas Deal

The Skinny on Obama’s Mid-East Envoy George Mitchell

By Shawn Woodley


Op-Ed: The Highs and Laws of the Inaugural Address

January 22, 2009

A fine speech. Though the President did many things well in the inaugural address it was not a speech free from error. If this were a full and fair appraisal there would be comments of both kinds. But adulation is cheap, and there is no shortage of Obama-philes willing to sing his praises. This entry therefore will restrict itself mostly to observations of a critical nature.

First for comment is the President’s ability to project rhetorical force. Though the speech exhibits high moments, especially at the end with his recital of General George Washington’s orders, much of the preceding in the speech feels aimless and wandering.

Take the example Obama’s introduction. After the usual ceremonies, the speech begins with the serious challenges facing the nation. “That we are in the midst of crisis is not well understood. Our nation is at war… Our economy is badly weakened…” The point is an important one for the President since it is both the first substantive comment and represents a major theme that appears in all the progressions that follow. It is understandable then that Obama deploys a wide array of rhetorical figures to evoke feelings in the audience of concern and foreboding.

But here he comes up short. A man noted for his facility for words, Obama never fully realizes the feelings he is set on creating. The first efforts appeal to imagery of “gathering clouds and raging storms”; later he designs his argument to intensify the effects “homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many…” But for all the effort, the emotive feelings Obama is trying to create are never fully accomplished. To be sure the prose is able and flows easily, but his attempts never collect the inertia needed to deliver points with real power.

It would go too far to say his arguments are without force, but they lack the energy to discriminate between the important and the truly important. The speech then never achieves great moments, only several good ones. For the listener the effect is a purposeless procession of one point after another. But to what? Was the speech about service to country? Retiring old dogma’s? Remaking America? Restoring trust? Obama can certainly be faulted for not making clear a singular theme in his address.

The moments unmake themselves in countless different ways. In some instances the President adds needless, litigious amounts of qualifications “and all deserve a chance to pursue…” In other instances he loses the symmetry of the sentence as, for example, with the unbalanced, mis-ordered clauses in this antithesis “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart-not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.” (And it is particularly ironic that the next sentence begins by rejecting false dichotomies.) Sometimes his descriptions are beautiful “the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages”; but other times the effect is awkward like when he says “some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor”. There are transitions between subjects that are abrupt and others that just feel trite “So it has been. So it must be…”

It is notable that the speech had no great, eminently memorable lines. And for those that were intended to be, such as “era of responsibility”, so far they have been championed by nobody.

It was a speech then that did not reset the high mark for what could be done in an inaugural address. But it was not a speech without distinction. And if this production does not find a high place in the pantheon of great American speeches, no one doubts that this President will rival his predecessors for one of the great orators in American history.

By Diplomatic Courier Staff