Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Yuan the key to expansion of Sino-Russian economic ties

Monday, June 26th, 2017


Russia made the Chinese yuan a reserve currency in 2015, raising the prospect of deeper economic cooperation between the countries PHOTO/Reuters

An inadvertent beneficiary of US/EU sanctions against Russia, China stands to gain more by working to deepen commercial ties with its neighbor

The recovery of trade between China and Russia emphasizes the need for continued growth in financial collaboration between the two powers. Bilateral trade rebounded to US$69.5 billion in 2016, after sliding 27% in 2015 to $64.2 billion from 2014’s US$95.3 billion.

China’s top financiers have been reaching out to their Russian counterparts at recent international meetings. Burdened by US and EU sanctions, Russia is increasingly relying on the yuan as an international trade settlement currency. In 2016, China-Russia cross-border yuan transactions saw 27.7% year-on-year growth to 30.46 billion yuan, or 6.41% of total bilateral trade volume. In March 2017, Russian aluminum giant Rusal issued its first Panda Bond tranche of 1 billion yuan. In the same month, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China officially began operating as a yuan clearing bank in Moscow, further raising the importance of the yuan in bilateral trade and investment.

It is useful to examine China’s commercial interests with Russia at two levels—national and provincial.

Nationally, China is in some respects a beneficiary of the US and EU sanctions against Russia. Although China-Russia trade took a gut-punch in 2015, Russia is now more dependent on China economically than before. Cut off from its traditional sources of financing in the west, Russia had to pivot east. In 2015, Russia made the yuan a reserve currency. The country is now a market for the internationalized Chinese yuan, important for cross-border commerce. Therefore, China’s key national financial interest is in augmenting the role of the yuan in bilateral trade.

Northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province is the locomotive in cross-border trade with Russia, which represents 65.3% of the province’s total import-export trade. In the first four months of 2017, Heilongjiang’s bilateral trade with Russia reached 25.02 billion yuan, a 45.8% increase year-on-year. In 2016, Heilongjiang’s total cross-border yuan transactions with Russia saw a 43.4% year-on-year rise to 7.76 billion yuan, or 25.5% of the national total. Chinese and Russian banks signed cross-border financing agreements totaling 33.5 billion yuan and established a 10 billion yuan fund targeting bilateral trade and infrastructure upgrade.

Asia Times for more

Europe stands by Caribbean on climate funding

Monday, June 26th, 2017


Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM-CARIFORUM, Ambassador Daniela Tramacere PHOTO/Desmond Brown/IPS

A senior European Union (EU) official in the Caribbean said Europe is ready to continue the global leadership on the fight against climate change, including helping the poor and vulnerable countries in the region.

Underlining the challenges posed by climate change, Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM/CARIFORUM, Ambassador Daniela Tramacere made it clear that the EU has no plan to abandon the extraordinary Agreement reached in Paris in 2015 by nearly 200 countries.

“Climate change is a challenge we can only tackle together and, since the beginning, Europe has been at the forefront of this collective engagement. Today, more than ever, Europe recognises the necessity to lead the way on its implementation, through effective climate policies and strengthened cooperation to build strong partnerships,” Tramacere said.

“Now we must work as partners on its implementation. There can be no complacency. Too much is at stake for our common good. For Europe, dealing with climate change is a matter of political responsibility and multilateral engagement, as well as of security, prevention of conflicts and even radicalisation. In this, the European Union also intends to support the poorest and most vulnerable.

“For all these reasons, the European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement. We have spent 20 years negotiating. Now it is time for action, the world’s priority is implementation,” she added.

The 2015 Paris deal, which seeks to keep global temperature rises “well below” 2 degrees C, entered into force late last year, binding countries that have ratified it to draw up specific climate change plans. The Caribbean countries, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU played a key role in the successful negotiations.

On June 1 this year, President Donald Trump said he will withdraw the United States from the landmark agreement, spurning pleas from U.S. allies and corporate leaders.

The announcement was met with widespread dismay and fears that the decision would put the entire global agreement in peril. But to date, there has been no sign that any other country is preparing to leave the Paris agreement.

Inter Press Service for more

If you embrace Assata, you must fight the black misleadership class

Monday, June 26th, 2017


“It is truly obscene to hear Donald Trump — and Barack Obama — speak of Cuban political prisoners when the U.S. still holds at least 15 former Panthers.”

Donald Trump’s vicious demonization of exiled Black Panther Assata Shakur, spat out in the course of his partial reversal of his predecessor’s “opening” to Cuba, shows once again that imperialism is a system, not a face or a political party –- and that the U.S. version of imperialism is inseparable from the white settler origins of the State.

Near the end of his presidency, Barack Obama sought to ease the terms of Washington’s half-century long, self-defeating blockade of the socialist island, while simultaneously increasing U.S. regime change efforts against Cuba’s ally, the socialist government of Venezuela. But it was Obama’s FBI that, three years ago, doubled the state of New Jersey’s $1 million bounty on Shakur’s head — an inducement to kidnap or assassination that Obama could have withdrawn with the stroke of a pen, but did not. Obama was prepared to adjust a policy that had resulted in the isolation of the U.S., rather than Cuba — and which was opposed by major sectors of corporate America — but would not yield an inch on Washington’s demand that a home-grown Black revolutionary and escaped political prisoner be returned to captivity.

“It was Obama’s FBI that, three years ago, doubled the state of New Jersey’s $1 million bounty on Shakur’s head.”

Assata represents the continuity of the centuries-long U.S. war against its Black population, a conflict that was taken to “a higher level,” as folks used to say, with the Black rebellions of the Sixties, the imposition of a mass Black incarceration regime, and the designation of the Black Panther Party as Public Enemy #1. Three generations and tens of millions of prisoners later, the Mass Black Incarceration State is more entrenched than ever; heavily armed, high tech-wired garrisons of cop-soldiers occupy cities that are rapidly ejecting their poor Black populations; and Assata Shakur is the only woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

She was placed there by the nation’s First Black President, with “not a peep” from “a single black mayor or member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Not Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, and certainly not the presidential lap dog Al Sharpton,” as BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon wrote, in 2013.

A year later, in June of 2014 — just two months before Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman — four out of five Black Caucus members voted to continue massive transfers of Pentagon weapons and equipment to local police. As (white) Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, sponsor of the bill to outlaw the arms transfers, stated:

“These weapons are not being used to defeat terrorism on our streets. Where is the terrorism on our streets? Instead, these weapons are being used to arrest barbers and to terrorize the general population. In fact, one may venture to say that the weapons are often used by a majority to terrorize a minority.”

Black Agenda Report for more

Weekend Edition

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Stella Nyanzi’s lips are still free

Friday, June 23rd, 2017


Prison officers assist Stella Nyanzi before her appearance in court on May 10. She was suffering from malaria PHOTO/Betty Ndagire/Daily Monitor/Erasing 76 Crimes

“What other avenues do we have left to us?”
“We don’t have guns or money” so can’t fuss
“can still write and think and insult and abuse”
so Stella Nyanzi does just that to spread her views

Ugandan girls miss school because sanitary pads they lack
through crowdfunding, Nyanzi is raising a huge money stack
Museveni had promised pads to schools free of charge
but the education minister said: can’t afford, amount too large

President Museveni is in power for the last 31 years
but to hear any criticism, he hasn’t trained his ears
for him, homosexuality is “unnatural” and “disgusting” are gays
this Christian has reserved for God all his praise

Nyanzi called Museveni a “pair of buttocks,” so right
Butts backed by US Christian fanatics can’t be a knight
Nyanzi’s bravery reminds of Faiz’s poem, “Speak” – lips are free
let’s hope, Nyanzi’s daring words make Museveni in his pants pee

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

This gay man is pregnant with his husband’s baby

Friday, June 23rd, 2017


A pregnant gay man has opened up about his rare pregnancy with his husband’s baby.

Trystan Reese and Biff Chaplow, of Portland, Oregon, spoke about Trystan’s pregnancy with their first biological son.

Speaking on This Morning, the pair explained that unlike most same-sex couples, they were able to conceive a child naturally – as Trystan is transgender.

Mr Reese said: “I think there are a lot of gay couples who would love to have their own biological child without intervention or assistance from other people.

“For me, I see it as a really amazing gift that I’ve been given. I get to live as a man, and I also get to do this really amazing thing that a lot of people would love to do.”

The couple, who have been together for seven years and married for four, first become parents after stepping up to raise their niece and nephew.

They later became convinced that they should try for their own child.

Pink news for more

A blot on India’s secularism

Friday, June 23rd, 2017


Mahatma Gandhi (left) with Dr Zakir Husain. Gandhi was a steadfast friend of the Jamia from the beginning. PHOTO/The Hindu Archives

“The way Aligarh participates in the various walks of national life will determine the place of Muslims in India’s national life. The way India conducts itself towards Aligarh will determine largely, yes, that will determine largely the form which our national life will acquire in the future,” said Dr Zakir Husain as Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on the occasion of President Rajendra Prasad’s visit to the university.

It took a decade and a half for India to redress the wrong done to AMU in 1965 by the government’s dishonest denial of its hitherto unchallenged character as an educational institution established by a minority, the Muslims. It was entitled, therefore, to the protection of the fundamental right embodied in Article 30(1) to administer it autonomously.

Only a few years later, the Rajiv Gandhi government got enacted the Jamia Millia Islamia Act, 1988. It was an accurate reflection of the bogus secularism of a Prime Minister who had, among other things, got the locks of the Babri Masjid complex opened in February 1986.

By its very terms, the Act stands exposed as a palpable fraud. Section 2(o) says: “‘University’ means the educational institution known as ‘Jamia Millia Islamia’ founded in 1920 during the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements in response to Gandhiji’s call for a boycott of all government-sponsored educational institutions which was subsequently registered in 1939 as Jamia Millia Islamia Society, and declared in 1962 as an institution deemed to be a University under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, and which is incorporated as a University under this Act.” The tortuous phrasing, no less than the historical reference, reveals a guilty mind.

The Jamia Millia Islamia was a product of India’s movement for freedom and was blessed by Gandhi at its very inception. Even before Independence it won high praise internationally. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who lived in Lahore in the 1940s, was a socialist and a strong opponent of the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan. His book Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis (Gollancz, 1946) contains a long discussion of the Jamia’s striking achievements in the field of education and the work of its Vice-Chancellor (Sheikh-ul-Jamia) Dr Zakir Husain, who selflessly devoted long years to sustain and build it when it was gasping for breath.

Frontline for more

U.S. “Jihadi Express”: Indonesia – Afghanistan, Syria, Philippines

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017


It was late at night but the new Terminal 3 at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport outside Jakarta was still bustling with families and friends waiting for their loved ones returning from abroad.

My friend Noor Huda Ismail was just arriving from Singapore, and I decided to pick him up and discuss ‘certain issues’ with him in the car, on the way to the capital. Lately he and I were busy, awfully busy, and a one-hour journey seemed to be the most appropriate setting for the exchange of at least some essential ideas and information.

Huda could easily pass for the most knowledgeable Indonesian “expert on terrorism”; a Muslim man who grew up and was educated in the madrasahs that have produced some of the most notorious jihadi cadres in the country. Later he became the man who managed to ‘get away’ from the extremism, to study, and to finally become a respected filmmaker and a thinker.

For years, both of us have been studying a complex web produced by Western imperialism – a web, which has literally destroyed entire countries, while locking other ones ‘behind bars’, in virtual neo-colonialist slavery. All this done in the name of ‘freedom’ and democracy, naturally, and often using various religions as tools, even as weapons.

Inside the car we managed to quickly ‘compare notes’. Huda filled me in on his groundbreaking film ‘Jihad Selfie’, while I informed him about my political revolutionary novel ‘Aurora’, and my big work in progress, a book about Afghanistan. I also mentioned my future ‘Afghan’ film, a dark love story, a drama about betrayal, collaboration and the virtual collapse of one family; a film which I’m preparing to produce and direct sometime during the next year.

“Afghanistan,” he says, “that’s where the roots of so many things lie… You recall that in the 80’s, the U.S. was using some local, Indonesian, jihadi cadres, sending them to Afghanistan…”

I knew about it; I knew something, but not everything. The fact that both Indonesian and Malaysian citizens went to fight against the Soviet Union, Karmal, and then Mohammad Najibullah’s government in Afghanistan, was something that I have never yet addressed in my books or films. Now I suddenly felt that it was important, extremely important, to address this fact.

“Huda,” I asked, as we were slowly progressing through perpetual traffic jam of Jakarta, “how many Indonesian men went to fight in Afghanistan, after the 1979 Soviet intervention?”

Huda didn’t hesitate. He always knows the numbers:

“Just from one group, there were 350 fighters. Indonesians fought in Afghanistan, and were based in a camp belonging to Ittehad-al-Islami (Islamic Union). Ustad Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf ran the camp. Of course Rab Rasul Sayyaf is Wahhabi, and the Wahhabis have been fully funded by the U.S. What we are seeing now, all those ‘terrorist threats’, is a blowback effect, of what the U.S. has done in the region, specifically in Afghanistan. And even the ISIS now: in 2003 they came to topple Saddam…”

Could I meet one of the Afghan ‘alumni’ here in Jakarta?

“Of course you can,” he nodded, “I’ll arrange it, while you are here.”

Counter Punch for more

The globalization of literature (book review)

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017



The story, according to Genesis 11, goes that the whole of mankind once shared a single common language, but instead of obeying God and spreading themselves across the world, they decided to remain where they were and “make a name for ourselves” by creating a structure so tall that it would reach the heavens. The Tower of Babel — as this edifice has come to be known — never came close to touching those celestial heights as God, presumably irked by man’s presumptuousness, scuttled their outsized plans by coming down to foist a new language for every tongue, thus causing confusion and forcing them to flee from the project and each other.

Aside from being a cautionary tale on the folly of human pride (thus making it a re-enactment of The Fall), the Babel story is often invoked to explain, in etiological terms, how the world came to have so many nations and languages. It’s tempting to see in it an allegory of our modern world, in which the interchange of people, ideas and goods are occurring rapidly along increasingly borderless and rapid lines. Taken this way, the Biblical passage gives a glimpse of a certain Utopian social order wherein a disparate, diverse group of people can still come together to coexist, to speak, as it were, one language. The tower of Babel, in short, turns out to be a pretty decent picture of globalization in the 21st century.

Indeed, the merits of today’s internationalism seem to be above all suspicion. From new Silicon Valley-funded startups in the thicket of Calcutta slums to ramen shops in Kansas City, globalism as both concept and an everyday fact of life is embraced by today’s well-minded liberal body. So if that’s the case, if the argument for globalism is so water-tight and damn-near irreproachable, why in the area of literature does one find so many supposedly progressive voices constantly bashing the very books that come out of the cauldron of heterogeneity? Why, in other words, are those from the intellectual class so quick to assume the mantle of the God of Genesis, impugning works that should be celebrated for either depicting or inhabiting the qualities of our modern world? Okay, Stieg Larsson and George R. R. Martin may not be the exact arbiters of cultural refinement that one has in mind, but Karl Ove Knausgard? Zadie Smith? Surely, the thinking goes, there’s only a bounty of good that stands to be gained from works of truly international spirit.

These are just some of the needling questions that Adam Kirsch takes to task in his informative, if ultimately wanting, pamphlet-length study, The Global Novel: Writing the World in the 21st Century. It is a direct response to the loosely gathered, but hefty, coalition of world literature dissenters, including, to name a few, Pascale Casanova, Tim Parks, Emily Apter, Minae Mizumura, and the pugnacious editors at n+1. Their argument runs something like this: that the global novel is often nothing more than a commercial product, vulnerable to the worst dumbing-down effects of market capitalism; and that it is a streamlined, mediocre work stripped of intricate language and local references to fit a standard, “one-size-fits-all” rubric — a style guide that aims at maximizing readability across wildly different cultures. Park gets at the heart of the latter point in an essay for The New York Review of Books in 2010 titled “The Dull New Global Novel,” writing that “Kazuo Ishiguro has spoken of the importance of avoiding word play and allusion to make things easy for the translator. Scandinavian writers I know tell me they avoid character names that would be difficult for an English reader.” Such concessions are similar, Parks laments, to the “wearisome lingua franca of special effects in contemporary cinema.” Denuded and purged of difficult particularities, the global novel can then ease itself through all the levels of the literary marketplace’s supply chain until it rakes in a windfall in seven countries.

The New Rambler for more

The limits of information

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017


There is a long, winding, and vexing wrangle among philosophers on the nature and validity of our knowledge of the physical world. Take the example of color. A stroll through the garden reveals a busy bee extracting nectar from a yellow rose. I see the yellow rose owing to certain pigments in the cone receptors of my retina. In a normally sighted person, the neurochemistry of vision operates over a range of wavelengths from about 360 to 760 nanometers (nm) — roughly violet to a deep red. What English-speaking percipients describe as “yellow” is in the near vicinity of 580 nm, a little above the eye’s peak sensitivity. For the honey bee, matters are quite different. Its compound eyes are equipped with three types of retinal receptors — one for very short wavelengths (peaking at 344 nm, or ultraviolet), a medium-type (peaking at 436, or blue), and one for long wavelengths (peaking at 544, or green). Though we and the bee may share floral preferences — revealed in the bee’s foraging and in our table settings — the bee’s representation of the external world clearly includes features to which we are blind.

Were all sources of electromagnetic radiation to fall at wavelengths shorter than 340 nm, the affairs of the world would pass us unseen. (And eyes like ours wouldn’t work very well anyway, since excessive exposure to ultraviolent radiation renders the human lens increasingly opaque as a result of cataracts.) Our inability to see (or to endure) much ultraviolet radiation is a heavy price to pay for our eyesight, but it does protect the human retina from destruction by this same radiation. The moral of the tale so far is that creatures are fitted out for the world as given, and modes of adaptation come at a price.

Is this explanation of human perception no more than a poor glimpse into evolutionary forces? Here we face yet another of philosophy’s enduring engagements, to wit: What counts as an explanation, and what standard is to be applied in evaluating competing explanations?

Explaining the World

In 1814, Pierre-Simon Laplace presented his famous “demon,” as it has come to be known. Imagine a superior intelligence who, knowing the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe, can account for the past and predict the future from the laws of classical mechanics. For this intelligence, Laplace wrote, “nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.” To explain the nature of a thing or occurrence, by this way of thinking, would require that we know with certainty the physical processes at the smallest level, because they determine the events at any larger level.

But then, some two centuries after Laplace, comes Werner Heisenberg and quantum mechanics rendering uncertain any attempt to specify a particle’s position and momentum simultaneously. Of course, uncertainty at the quantum level may impose no barrier to determinism at the macro-level, but even this proposition raises questions regarding the nature of explanation and the level at which scientific explanations are of the right sort.

But why assume there is a fixed and right sort of explanation? Sometimes taken to be the “realist” position in the philosophical debate between realists and anti-realists, the idea that there is a right sort of explanation is predicated on a core of metaphysical precepts. Dominant these days among such ideas is physicalism, which takes physical events and objects to be the sole and ultimate furniture of reality. Explaining such events and objects then calls for what is finally a causal account. In principle, all that is really real, even all that we cannot yet observe, is subject to explanations located within a causally closed system — that is, one admitting only of physical causes.

New Atlantis for more