Global News Blog
The post-Arab Spring climate in the Middle East has accelerated a “Christian exodus” from the region, says Hassan Mneimneh of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, in a piece on RealClearWorld.com. He sees “[t]he fate of the Christians in the Middle East” as “inseparable from the region’s transformation into a viable, prosperous, and progressive home for all of its inhabitants.”
Christian populations in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territories have shrunk dramatically in recent years. In Syria, Christians face increased Islamic radicalization. In Egypt, they are being denied basic civic rights and protection. Even in Jordan, the Christian community eyes political and demographic developments within the kingdom warily.
In response, Christians have emigrated from the region en masse. Some have sought alliances with other minorities, including the Alawites of the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah (Shiites) in Lebanon. And Mr. Mneimneh says efforts by Christian leaders in Lebanon to gain disproportionate political representation set a “dangerous precedent.”
Is online ed here to stay?
Massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs, have drawn plenty of attention – and hundreds of thousands of students. Several elite colleges have joined with companies such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity to offer free online courses, though not for credit, that can have tens of thousands of students at once.
Proponents laud the popular courses for “democratizing” access to knowledge and for their potential to educate future innovators. Critics who worry about “the McDonaldization of higher education” deplore a lack of accountability for plagiarism and cheating, and question the quality of the student experience.
What do the professors who create and teach the MOOCs say? According to a survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 79 percent believe the courses “are worth the hype.” Steve Kolowich says the findings signal “a change of heart that could indicate a bigger shake-up in the higher-education landscape.”
Nearly half of the professors said their MOOCs were as academically rigorous as their in-class versions. The majority (72 percent) felt successful students should be given credit at their institution. And an overwhelming majority believe free online courses will drive down the cost of college generally.
But a majority (55 percent) also said that MOOCs diverted time away from research and traditional teaching. And the average pass rate for their online courses (with a median enrollment of 30,000) was just 7.5 percent.
Professors cited a variety of motivations for teaching MOOCs, both altruistic and professional. But most saw online education as the inevitable wave of the future.
Visualizing drone strikes
According to a recent Gallup poll, 65 percent of Americans support US drone attacks on terrorists abroad, but less than half are closely following news on drones. That’s an awareness gap California media company Pitch Interactive seeks to bridge with its newly launched interactive Web visualization of the US drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan since 2004. The animated visualization (drones.pitchinteractive.com) charts the chronology, frequency and volume, and victims of the attacks.
Using data primarily from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, New America Foundation, and “Living Under Drones” (a Stanford/NYU report), Pitch groups victims into four categories: children, civilians, other (“a very grey area”), and high-profile targets, which represent just 1.5 percent of total victims. Civilians and children account for 22.8 percent.
Slate blogger Emma Roller says the data should be taken with a grain of salt. For perspective, she also notes that the Iraq Body Count project estimates 60 percent of those killed in Iraq since 2003 were civilians. And though Pitch says its aim is not “to speak for or against [drones], but to inform,” Ms. Roller feels the group presents data “in a way that fits nicely into the ‘against’ column.”
Why Japan has a low crime rate
In the French daily Le Monde, Phillipe Pons takes a critical look at the harsh conditions of Japanese prisons and high rates of capital punishment. The piece can be read in English (translated by Carolina Saracho) at Worldcrunch, a site that translates and edits content from top foreign-language outlets.
The article describes draconian prisons and a criminal-justice system in which those arrested can be held in detention for 23 days without being charged or having access to a lawyer and in which “[a]lmost all convictions are obtained thanks to ‘confessions.’ ” During Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2006-07 term in office, 10 people were hanged in less than a year.
But Japan also has the lowest incarceration and recidivism rates of developed nations. The government says Japan’s relatively low crime rate justifies the tough penalties. And polls show that the majority of Japanese support the death penalty. But criminologists debate “the deterrent effect” and note other factors at play, such as strict gun laws. On balance, Mr. Pons worries that “Public order comes at a high price in Japan – the price of prisoner rights and the presumption of innocence.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continued what has become a daily effort to raise tensions and fears abroad, and to consolidate patriotic ardor and unity at home, by saying he plans to restart an old nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium used in the creation of nuclear weapons.
In response, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the former foreign minister of South Korea, today described the North as on “a collision course with the international community” – even as some Korea watchers call it all bluster and bellicosity.
Experts say it could take as little as three months to a year for scientists to restart the Yongbyon nuclear facility. The facility was closed most recently in 2012 with the promise of food aid from the US – though that so-called "food for nukes" deal fell through with the North's third nuclear test in February.
It is quite unclear whether young leader Kim Jung-un – whose recent bone-jarring threats of war and attack are considered part of his consolidation of power inside Pyongyang and among the North Korean people – will go ahead with an expensive project of plutonium reprocessing and enriching uranium, or use these to extract aid and talks.
A nuclear weapon or capability has long been the No. 1 prize sought by the Kim family dynasty in Pyongyang, dating to Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung, as the ultimate bargaining chip both for its own security and as a means to gain international attention and aid. In February, the North successfully tested a device, that resulted in UN sanctions that the North has protested are undeserved.
The reclusive state declared a “state of war” exists between the two Koreas last weekend, and last month vowed to target Hawaii and Guam with its rockets, though they are not currently thought capable of reaching US bases, nor are they nuclear-tipped.
The Associated Press writes today that:
A spokesman for the North's General Department of Atomic Energy said scientists will quickly begin work "readjusting and restarting" a uranium enrichment plant and a graphite-moderated, 5-megawatt reactor that could produce a bomb's worth of plutonium each year.
AP also quotes North Korean expert Hwang Jihwan at the University of Seoul, South Korea, who argues that Pyongyang’s recent behavior aims at "keeping tension and crisis alive to raise stakes ahead of possible future talks with the United States."
Essentially, reports the AP, "North Korea is asking the world, `What are you going to do about this?' "
Complicating matters is the fact that Kim Jong-un was considered by Western officials a relative unknown until he took over from his father, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il last spring. And still, not much is known about him.
Bluster or not, the North’s belligerence has put the Korean peninsula on high alert. Kim Jong-un has scratched the armistice signed after the Korean War, cut military hotlines, brought new South Korean president Park Geun-hye to say that the South will retaliate over any provocations, and caused the US military, which has 28,000 troops in the South, to relocate sensitive radars and to send B-2 Stealth bombers in fly overs.
Yet, the Los Angeles Times today points out:
After the declaration of a "state of war" over the weekend, the White House said no major troop movements were detected in North Korea. White House officials have said the Pyongyang regime has shown no "action to back up the rhetoric."
The U.S. Navy, however, is moving a sea-based radar platform closer to North Korea to track possible missile launches, a Pentagon official said Monday. The support is the latest step to deter the North and reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. is committed to their defense.
In one sense, Korea watchers say, the new regime is simply rehashing and upping the volume of an ideology and a language that the North and the Kim family have used for many years to remain in power and keep people unified by the threat of an enemy.
Being taken seriously by the outside world is an important verification of the Kim regime, which feeds edited broadcasts of world media to its people, whose sources of information are carefully controlled.
Some analysts think officials in Pyongyang are beside themselves with the kind of attention they are now achieving, largely through verbal threats backed up by the nuclear test.
In a theater song performance broadcast to the nation in February, reminiscent of the kind of “ballet” the Chinese used to perform during the Cultural Revolution, a stage backdrop contained the phrase, "Let's strike the imperialists mercilessly with the same success we had carrying out the 3rd nuclear test."
Handfuls of Islamist radicals are slipping in and out of towns in northern Mali on hit and run operations, putting a question mark over France's aspirations to neatly wrap up its military intervention soon.
This weekend brought a suicide car bomb in Timbuktu that rattled residents and sparked a brief, intense skirmish with French and Malian troops who say they will now more strongly garrison the ancient trading post town. The French deployed air craft to crack down on rebels, whose identity in this attack remains unclear. Malian officials said 21 rebels were killed.
As French politicians and senior officers prepare to partly exit Mali this month, having largely assuaged fears of a new Afghanistan developing in northwest Africa, they are facing a new low-level radical insurgency of yet uncertain numbers, capability, and intent.
"The fighting is heavy and it is ongoing," Malian Army Capt. Modibo Naman Traore told Reuters on Sunday, adding that the Army was in the process of "encircling" the militants.
Last week in Gao, the largest city in the Malian north, rebels killed six locals in a similar attack. That operation, which French forces reportedly rebuffed quickly, was claimed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, a group that partly controlled the city last fall.
In January the French quickly drove out a loose but effective Islamist insurgency that last year took over huge swaths of Mali using weapons siphoned out of Libya after its civil strife ended.
But having liberated Gao, Timbuktu, and other northern towns, the French have focused on Islamists in the northern mountains; days back French forces confirmed killing a significant rebel leader Abou Zeid. Yet apparent French indifference to, or even collaboration in recent weeks with, ethnic Tuareg rebels, reported here by Peter Tinti in The Christian Science Monitor, has strained relations between government, military, and local populations.
Much of the media coverage and information of sensitive war operations in Mali by the French is under strict control. The New York Times today, reporting out of Paris, writes about the rebels in Timbuktu that,
“They had said Timbuktu was secured,” the mayor [of Timbuktu] lamented. The fighting had ceased by about 3 p.m. on Sunday, he said, though military aircraft, presumably French, continued to circle in the skies above Timbuktu. Two patrols of French fighter aircraft had been sent to Timbuktu, according to Colonel Burkhard, the military spokesman, but they did not fire any munitions.
Analysts continue to ask whether, after a successful effort to put Al Qaeda-linked rebels on the run, Mali itself can continue to hold together.
Mali has announced new elections in July and the French force levels are to draw down from more than 4,000 to 2,000 by that time.
For some travelers, getting off the beaten path is a point of pride, a way to see the parts of the world that don’t make it into glossy guidebooks.
But how many of those same adventurous travelers would be willing to visit, say, Somalia?
About 500, it turns out.
At least, that’s how many tourists found their way to the wartorn east African nation last year.
That makes Somalia the second-least visited country in the world, after the tiny pacific island nation Nauru, according to a recent list compiled by travel writer Gunnar Garfors from UN statistics.
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Little Nauru – 8.1 square miles in size, population 9,378 – got just 200 visitors last year, and it’s pretty clear why.
“There is almost nothing to see there,” writes Mr. Garfors, “as most of the island … is a large open phosphate mine.”
Indeed, most of the world’s least visited countries seem to fall in one of two categories. There are the Naurus, where you’ll puzzle over what to do, and the Somalias, where it’s simply too dangerous to do much of anything at all. (As Somalia’s Wikitravel page aptly notes, “the easiest method for staying safe in Somalia is not to go in the first place.”)
Most of the “nothing to do” countries are the crumbs that dust a map of the Pacific Ocean: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. The latter shares with the Maldives the dubious distinction of having "highest elevation points" that are the lowest on earth – 15 feet above sea level. Visit while you can, as rising sea levels could make the island uninhabitable within a century.
As for the “too dangerous” countries, the list reads like a global primer in political conflict. For instance, despite its pristine national parks full of wild gorillas and elephants, the perpetually ungovernable Central African Republic (#23) is an unpopular destination for tourists. And its stock will likely continue to plummet – last week a rebel alliance seized the capital, Bangui, and the president fled to neighboring Cameroon. (For more on the tempestuous politics of the CAR, read about the rebel alliance that took power there Sunday)
Afghanistan (#10) also suffers from tourism-deflating instability, which keeps visitors away from its rugged peaks, ancient Buddhist monuments, and Islamic holy sites, including the 12th-century Minaret of Jam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“The Taliban have a message for foreign tourists who come to Afghanistan, especially if they are from any of the 50 countries that are part of the NATO-led coalition supporting the government: Big mistake,” writes The New York Times.
Other countries on the list, like Guinea Bissau (#14), Libya (#15), and East Timor (#18), have seen their reputations – and infrastructure – hobbled by recent wars or uprisings.
But not every country on the list is too dangerous or boring to visit. A few are simply effectively sealed off to the outside world.
All foreign visitors to North Korea (#16) are limited to a state-curated itinerary and must have an official government “minder” by their side at all times. But for the few Western tourists who venture into the country, that’s part of the appeal. “You will rarely get to see propaganda done more explicitly,” Garfors writes.
Except, perhaps, in Turkmenistan (#7), where visitors who brave the onerous Soviet-esque visa application process were, at least until 2010, rewarded with sites like a 50-ft. golden statue of former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov in the capital Ashgabat, which rotated throughout the course of the day to face the sun. But the country’s most indisputably impressive site is a massive flaming crater deep in the Karakum Desert. Measuring 230 feet across and almost 70 feet deep, the so-called “Door to Hell” has been burning continuously since Soviet scientists lit it on fire in 1971.
Obscure? Yes. But that's part of the charm.
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It has been said that war has no winners. That statement could easily include not just soldiers and civilians, but also the hundreds of stray animals that are caught in the crossfire.
As the 2014 withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan draws closer, a lot of attention has been paid to how to care for the soldiers coming home, many of whom have done multiple tours. Attention is also being paid, as Jessie Knadler points out in The Daily Beast, to the animals they bring home with them.
Some dogs rescued from war zones appear to be coming home with their new masters exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder – even when their owners aren’t – as they adjust to not having to navigate land mines or sudden fights.
What’s the method to ease such a transition?
“All we could give her was time, love, freedom, and lots of exercise and discipline,” writes Ms. Knadler of Solha, the dog her Army Reservist husband brought home with him from Kandahar. “Is that how to treat canine PTSD? I don’t know. But Solha is a different, calmer dog today than she was a year ago. And she’ll never have to fight another dog again.”
Children on camera
By the time a 15-year-old schoolgirl named Malala Yousafzai was shot point-blank by the Taliban six months ago in Pakistan, her activism and story had captured interest around the world. She exemplified a rare courage, spunk, and determination that made her a powerful symbol of the fight for female education amid extremism.
It was the media that handed this young girl the soapbox – and possibly made her a target, worries Syed Irfan Ashraf, who first put Malala on camera when she was just 11 years old.
Disclosing the guilt he felt for doing so, he told Marie Brenner of Vanity Fair, “No one was paying attention to what was happening in Mingora. We took a very brave 11-year-old and created her to get the attention of the world. We made her a commodity.”
The economy of unwed mothers
Good news: Over the past two decades, teen birthrates have fallen. The other news? By the time American women turn 30, about two-thirds have had their first child – usually outside of marriage, according to a recent report highlighted in The Atlantic Monthly.
Take note of “usually outside of marriage,” writes Derek Thompson, asking, “Why so few marriages?” The answer, he writes, is best seen through the lens of three factors:
“(1) The changing meaning of marriage in America; (2) declining wages for low-skill men; and (3) the declining costs of being a single person.”
It used to be that the marriage contract was entered into in the US with specific roles in mind. The wife would stay home and take care of the kids, and the husband would go to work and put food on the table. That model has been upended.
“Think of marriage like any other contract or investment. It’s most likely to happen when the gains are big. So we should expect marriages among low-income Americans to decline if women perceive declining gains from hitching themselves to the men around them.”
Back to life, back to reality
Right now scientists in South Korea are combing the frozen remains of woolly mammoths looking for the scientific version of a needle in a haystack: a live cell. Any live cell. If they find one, they’ll try to use it to bring the mammoth back from centuries of extinction. (Don’t worry, they’ve got a Plan B.)
Roll your eyes if you must, but, writes Carl Zimmer in National Geographic, the idea of bringing vanished species back to life has percolated in popular culture and in science labs at least since “Jurassic Park,” and that technology is close – really close.
Indeed, advances in manipulating stem cells, in recovering ancient DNA, and in reconstructing lost genomes has pushed science closer to reviving that which was once thought to be lost for good. Remember Dolly, the first sheep to be cloned in 1996? Amateur. Scientists now offer up the hopeful example of Celia the bucardo (an extinct type of mountain goat).
“Celia’s clone is the closest that anyone has gotten to true de-
extinction. Since witnessing those fleeting minutes of the clone’s life, [Alberto] Fernández-Arias, now the head of the government of Aragon’s Hunting, Fishing and Wetlands department, has been waiting for the moment when science would finally catch up, and humans might gain the ability to bring back an animal they had driven extinct.”
The question now is, Should it be done?
“ ‘The history of putting species back after they’ve gone extinct in the wild is fraught with difficulty,’ says conservation biologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University. A huge effort went into restoring the Arabian oryx to the wild, for example. But after the animals were returned to a refuge in central Oman in 1982, almost all were wiped out by poachers. ‘We had the animals, and we put them back, and the world wasn’t ready,’ says Pimm. ‘Having the species solves only a tiny, tiny part of the problem.’ ”
Europeans have tossed and turned at night since the continent's sovereign debt crisis began three years ago. Right now it’s the Cypriots, surprised earlier this month by an announcement that some personal bank accounts could be taxed in order to raise the needed contribution for a bailout.
But Greeks, Irish, and Spaniards know the drill all too well themselves. Spanish bank deposits, for instance, dropped by 4.7 percent between June and July 2012, as faith in the country’s banking system plummeted.
In banks, it’s safe to say, many Europeans do not trust.
So what better way to slip soundly into sleep each night than knowing the precise status of one’s life savings? That’s the idea behind the simple and inventive Caja MiColchón, or My Mattress Safe, a bed manufactured in northwestern Spain that is outfitted with a safety deposit box.
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Francisco “Paco” Santos worked in the mattress business for 14 years before losing his job in 2009. Unemployed, he tapped a dormant entrepreneurial spirit, designing this mattress that stands out from the rest.
My Mattress Safe was released by Mr. Santos' company Descanso Santos Sueños (DESS) three weeks ago, in step with the Cyprus banking saga. It sells for about $1,120.
Set to upbeat, jazzy music, one promotional video on the company’s website shows the ins and outs of production. The mattress is made with “the best materials” and implanted at the foot of the bed is a digital-entry safety box (there's no mention of whether or not it’s fireproof).
In the video, Mr. Santos parodies a bank commercial, calling My Mattress Safe a “financial institution” with a new, imaginative take on saving. Not to fear, he says – this approach to savings doesn’t come with the threat of bankruptcy, mergers, or market fluctuations.
That could be a powerful selling point, with the safety of bank deposits high on the mind in Europe once again this month. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the European Union “raised serious doubts about its promise to guarantee citizens’ savings – a vital pillar of any financial sector that underpins savers’ trust – when it went along with a plan to levy small Cypriot depositors.”
DESS hasn’t released sales figures, but the company said they’ve exceeded expectations. And despite the initial double take, there may be a larger audience for a Mattress Safe than one might expect.
In Argentina, for example, many keep their US dollars (a popular currency because of high rates of inflation) out of Argentine banks after “harsh lessons” learned from past economic crises. The Monitor met one Argentine last summer who keeps his dollars in a safety deposit box.
“I know that the dollars in my box are actually there,” says Francisco, an IT worker in Buenos Aires. “If you have a bank account in dollars your money doesn’t exist – it’s just virtual money."
The My Mattress Safe tagline feeds into this mentality: “Your money, very close to you.”
For customers looking for assurance that their money isn't going anywhere with the Caja MiColchón, there’s a calculator on the website where customers can work out their savings over time. Enter the deposit amount, the number of months of planned investment, and voila: The same number of euros deposited in a My Mattress Safe is at the investor’s disposal a month, year, or decade later. (“What you deposit is what you have. So easy, so simple,” reads the website.)
"History repeats itself,” Santos told Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
“Older generations thought the safest place to keep their money was under the mattress. Now we’re proposing the same thing as we've seen people's uneasiness about the current situation. I'm not going to deny that the idea is a little crazy, but we believe that people with this mattress not only will sleep well, but also will be more relaxed because their savings are safe."
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Locusts have descended on Israel this week, just in time for Passover. As millions of Jews commemorate the story of the children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, including the 10 plagues that afflicted Pharaoh and his people, millions of the crunchy buggers are creeping all over Israel’s southern deserts.
This is nothing like the eighth plague of biblical times, in which locusts covered “the whole face of the earth” in a kind of collective punishment for the Egyptians whose leader refused to let his Hebrew slaves go free.
But this year is the first time since 2005 that modern Israel has had to combat locusts, which can swarm so thickly that drivers can’t see beyond their windshield. Potato farmers bemoaned the detrimental effect of a previous wave of the grasshopper-like insects several weeks ago. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, which was on “locust alert,” has responded quickly to the latest wave with pesticides.
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But it’s not just Israel. Today the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Agriculture sprayed pesticides in Hebron, in the southern West Bank. And Egyptian farmers have suffered millions of dollars in damage after a swarm of about 30 million locusts hit Cairo earlier this month.
The most serious situation, however, appears to be in Sudan, where the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) head has warned that immature “hoppers” are lining up along a 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) stretch of the Nile and could pose a serious threat to Nile Valley crops in May.
OK, so locusts are not your average grasshopper. But still, how can they cause such massive damage?
Consider these arresting facts: They can eat their weight in crops every day; they can fly more than 80 miles a day – in swarms as dense as 200 million per square mile; and females can lay as many as 1,000 egg pods in roughly 10 square feet, according to an FAO fact sheet.
To put the threat in practical terms, one ton of locusts (just a fraction of your average swarm) can eat about as much food as 2,500 people can in a day, says FAO.
The Israelis have sought to reverse the food chain this Passover, however, by grilling the kosher insects for a crunchy, high-protein delicacy. And they’re not alone. Locust recipes abound.
A Mexican version from “Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects,” by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, calls for roasting locust torsos and sprinkling them on homemade guacamole in a taco shell. Scrap that. Sprinkle and enjoy, the cookbook says.
B’tayavon, as the Israelis would say. Bon appétit.
With the British government moving ahead on a new media regulator and the UK press in revolt against, some in the country wonder if their neighbors to the west could offer a solution. Could Ireland's model of an official Press Council and ombudsman work in Britain?
Set up by the newspaper industry in response to a government threat to introduce privacy legislation, the 13-member Press Council includes representatives of publishers, members of the public (the appointments are publicly advertised), and one from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), the leading journalists' union in Britain and Ireland.
Publications that are members, including all of the national newspapers, agree to be bound by its code of conduct, and to recognize the decisions of the council and ombudsman. Membership in the council is not mandatory, but publications that are members are generally subject to lesser damages in the event of successful court actions against them, as a result of the council and ombudsman being "recognized in statute."
The ombudsman, currently John Horgan, a former Labor party politician and journalism professor, adjudicates on complaints from subjects of newspaper stories, and if agreement cannot be found between all parties involved, he can make a ruling or refer the complaint to the Press Council for a final decision.
Seamus Dooley, the Irish secretary of the NUJ, says regulation has not been proscriptive.
The Press Council's code of conduct is more carrot than stick, and starts with a full-throated defense of a free press, saying: "The freedom to publish is vital to the right of the people to be informed. This freedom includes the right of a newspaper to publish what it considers to be news, without fear or favour, and the right to comment upon it."
It goes on, however, to detail what the Press Council sees as the correct way for publications to operate, although the tone is more aspirational than condemnatory. For example, retractions must be printed in a prominent place and ordinary members of the public are entitled to privacy.
"We're quite happy with the way it's going," says retired business journalist Martin Fitzpatrick, NUJ's appointee to the Irish Press Council. "We've never had a hugely contentious press. There is a degree of timidity, and you could fault them for not foreseeing the onset of the financial crisis, but that's not down to regulation."
The high opinion of press regulation is not universally held, however, even in the NUJ's Irish ranks.
"[British] newspapers did horrible things, but they also uncovered horrible things that were done. The effect of regulation will not be the protection of people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves at the center of press attention, it will be the protection of the rich and powerful," says Gerard Cunningham, chairman of the NUJ's freelance branch in Ireland.
(Could Ireland's regulation work in Britain? British papers rebel as UK press regulation moves closer to reality)
Mr. Cunningham, who formerly worked in the US, says the culture of the British press is, for demonstrable reasons, comparable to other countries only in very general terms.
"This is about all about competition," he says. "Maybe The New York Times and, to a lesser extent, The Christian Science Monitor have a national reach, but they're not really competing against a regional metro daily," he says.
This situation with each US metro market having a dominant player is in stark contrast with Britain, where 11 national dailies, a clutch of regional newspapers, a few specialist titles, and an independent national Scottish press all slug it out for the same pound.
"The British market is intensely competitive and they try to break every story. They really do publish and be damned," says Cunningham.
In contrast, a staggering 19 daily papers are available on the newsstands nationwide in Ireland, though nine of these are rarely read imports from the US and UK and three more are regional titles from Northern Ireland. Of the seven popular national newspapers in Ireland, two tabloids are "Celtified" editions of British newspapers and two more are hybrids of British and Irish material. All four are members of the Press Council, though their British equivalents object to press regulation.
Having a regulated press hasn't stopped the Irish government from indicating it may seek further powers, though. In February 2012, the publication by the Irish Daily Star of candid photographs of Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, prompted Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter to consider enacting new, stricter privacy legislation. The government has yet to do so, however.
North Korea's edgy game of war talk continued at ever higher volumes today with the announcement that it will cut off the last military hot line with South Korea.
“Under the situation where a war may break out any moment, there is no need to keep North-South military communications,” said the regime, according to the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang.
The severed line of communication comes as the North, under young and new President Kim Jong-un, has said it is moving into its highest military alert status and has threatened to target Hawaii and Guam with rockets, after last month conducting its third nuclear test.
The escalating rhetoric has brought a new agreement between US and South Korean officials that would dictate military action should the North cross the border, shell islands, or harm shipping in the kind of low-level actions Pyongyang has attempted in recent years.
US military officials called the North Korean statement “bellicose.” Many have expressed doubt that North Korea’s rockets have the range to reach US bases in Guam and Hawaii, but a few, including the editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, estimated they could reach US military bases in Japan, according to USA Today.
Yesterday the small, poor state that is anchored by devotion to the Kim family dynasty, and is now nearly entirely dependent on China for basic sustenance but has also devoted considerable resources to its military, repeated a longstanding threat to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire,” among other similarly colorful threats.
Earlier this year, the North said it would no longer answer a hot line at the Demilitarized Zone. The hot line that the country is now threatening to shut down linked the two Koreas at the Kaesong industrial park, created in the North during the warming winds of unification in the 2000s. The economic complex has long been a symbol of the potential for North-South cooperation.
The New York Times today notes the North’s threat on the hot line follows comments from Park Geun-hye, the newly elected president of South Korea, that North Korea needed to end its nuclear threats in order to gain better traction with the South:
“If North Korea provokes or does things that harm peace, we must make sure that it gets nothing but will pay the price, while if it keeps its promises, the South should do the same,” she said during a briefing from her government’s top diplomats and North Korea policy-makers. “Without rushing and in the same way we would lay one brick after another, we must develop South-North relations step by step, based on trust, and create sustainable peace.”
Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, a veteran Korea-watcher once based in Seoul, tells The Christian Science Monitor that Pyongyang's main grievance appears to be recent United Nations sanctions targeted at the North.
Mr. Snyder argues that the meaning of the North’s sudden blustery behavior will only become clearer “once the question of the consolidation of [Kim Jong-un’s] power becomes clearer.”
Agence France-Presse today said that a significant meeting among party elites and power brokers in the closed world of Pyongyang is about to take place.
"They will discuss how to handle the nuclear issue, inter-Korean relations and North Korea's longstanding demand for a peace treaty with the United States," Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told AFP.
Comparisons between the new Kim and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the patriarch of North Korea, are flowing freely, since there is a resemblance between the two. But Snyder notes that too little is yet known of the young Kim, who took over from his father Kim Jong-il last year, and that his youth is not necessarily a plus in such a high-stakes game.
“Right now the song is the same, but the volume is a lot louder. We don’t know his risk tolerance yet … does he understand the game he is playing?”
The US-South Korea military agreement follows a recent scrapping by the North of the historic legal armistice that effectively ended the Korean war in the 1950s. It came on the anniversary of the infamous sinking of the Choenan Navy vessel in 2010, which resulted in the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors, something that has had powerful emotional resonance in the South. (The Choenan was raised from the ocean floor, and forensics by the South claim the vessel was torpedoed by the North, something the North denies.)
USA Today quotes an Asia-watcher who feels the key to dealing with Pyongyang runs through Beijing:
US diplomats should talk to their Chinese counterparts and say, "Your ally North Korea is acting in a very belligerent and destabilizing way," said [Richard] Bush, who heads the Brookings Institution Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies. "They're acting in ways that are contrary to the principles you [China] have laid out. The situation is somewhat dangerous. You need to restrain your ally."
If you want to make a killing on the stock market, here’s an unusual tip: Identify the fashion house behind the clothes that Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan is wearing at her next public appearance and buy shares in that company, fast.
Ms. Peng, currently touring Africa with her husband, the new Chinese President Xi Jinping, is proving a smash hit back home and inspiring fashionistas to replicate her look.
So when a news story on Tuesday identified the pearl earrings that Peng was wearing as coming from the city of Zhuji, the stock price of all the pearl producers in Zhuji rose on the news. One company’s stock rose so far so fast that market regulators capped its price rise on Wednesday.
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Peng has captured the Chinese imagination as a stylish and modern face for her country, most of whose first ladies have ranged recently from dowdy to invisible. And the state-controlled press is playing the story for all it is worth, with front page photos and breathless coverage.
“Peng Liyuan Opens the Door for Chinese Fashion and Confidence” read the enthusiastic headline of an editorial in Wednesday’s edition of Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party.
In a world where China is more often seen as a threatening potential enemy than as a friend, according to a number of recent international opinion polls, Peng is a more useful weapon for Beijing’s image-makers than an aircraft carrier.
She was already massively popular before her husband became president earlier this month; indeed, as a nationally famous singer of patriotic and military songs, she was better known than Mr. Xi until he was tapped five years as next in line for the top job. And then she dropped out of sight.
Recently she has quietly begun doing first lady-like things, such as becoming a World Health Organization ambassador in the fight against HIV-Aids. She is “widely viewed as a tremendous element of China’s soft power,” wrote leading foreign policy pundit Shen Dingli in an opinion piece for the “Global Times” earlier this week. “Now … it is time to present such soft power on the world stage.”
Peng has not opened her mouth in public yet, but has used her fashion sense to project China’s soft power. Everything she wears is Chinese made and designed, and sometimes clearly designed in the oriental style. That is a marked contrast with the sense of style that prevails among most wealthy Chinese women, which tends towards well known Western brands.
Such brands are bad news in China at the moment, too closely identified with corrupt officials and their wives at a time when Xi has promised a crackdown on corruption.
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