Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pankaj Mishra: "Hong Kong is a great clamor"

The acclaimed author on Asian history shared some insights with the New York Times about Occupy Central:

> Hong Kong came into existence as a hub of global capitalism, and that is what it has remained, under two regimes. But that cycle of materialism could not go on forever. A new generation is always likely to have a different sense of its place in the world, or what the good life consists of, especially if it has been exposed to the wider world.Then there is also the cycle of modern capitalism, which doesn't distribute its benefits evenly and in fact dispossess many. It began to seem oppressive to a substantial number of people who have neither the means nor the desire to join it — actually, the anxiety that your prospects and sense of possibility is shrinking can be more intense on a small island that is increasingly subservient to a big country.


Ro Khanna Fights Back against "Guilt by Association" Campaign by associating with wrong folks

And all that campaigning seems to have made how much difference?

Khanna has refused to take any money from political action committees for his campaign, but he hasn’t denounced the help he’s received from the independent expenditure group, Californians for Innovation, even though it’s a super PAC formed strictly to collect more money than would otherwise be allowed in a congressional campaign and spend it to get Khanna elected. 
And more than half the $480,000 taken in by Californians for Innovation so far comes from John Arnold, a former Enron energy trader and hedge fund manager who is slammed, though not by name, in Honda’s TV spot as a donor who “even helped cut off electricity to California.” 
The charge comes from 2005 reports that Enron created artificial power shortages in California, helping to trigger the state’s energy crisis in 2000 and 2001 in an effort to raise the price of electricity. 
Khanna and his backers complain that Honda’s charges are little more than an attempt to create “guilt by association,” airing night after night as many voters are deciding whom to support in a race that many see as a tossup.

More @ SFGate

More on Tech Companies' migration to funding transit over "Google Buses"

This is not the Google Bus you are looking for

It remains unclear whether the businesses plan to invest their own funds into projects with Caltrain officials in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. Other local transit agencies, like the Valley Transportation Authority, have also sought to enlist business resources in efforts to improve light rail and bus service, but there has yet to be a major funding announcement. 
Another possibility is leaning on large employers for advocacy and lobbying support for other potential funding mechanisms. State and federal funds are always a possibility, and business advocacy group the Silicon Valley Leadership Group — another member of the new Caltrain coalition — has also signaled an intent to campaign for a 2016 sales tax hike to fund both roadway and transit improvements. 
The dual possibilities for public and private investment in badly needed infrastructure upgrades is also reminiscent of the region's housing crunch. A debate is under way over whether developers, employers or taxpayers might be tapped by local cities to help pay for new affordable housing.

It all circles back to the notion that Silicon Valley's rapid job growth has created unique pressures for residents who live and work here day to day, which observers say have been mounting during the region's current tech boom.
Russell Hancock, CEO of think tank Joint Venture Silicon Valley, told me earlier this fall that the entire region needs to "own up to our dysfunction," which goes way beyond funding shortfalls to encompass dynamics like entrenched suburban development patterns and political opposition to more dense, transit-oriented projects.

More @ Silicon Valley Business Journal

San Francisco always wanted to make zoning and permitting easier, right?

"Easier" is a relative term. 
Concerned neighborhood groups, who exist in a perpetual state of concern, are concerned about who, exactly, will have it "easier." A consortium raised red flags and marched into last week's Planning Commission meeting with grave concerns over a specific clause within the 468 pages of arcana. 
The nightmare of every member of every concerned neighborhood group is to peer out the kitchen window one morning and notice a preponderance of gaunt young people with sideways haircuts toting around longboards and chain-smoking American Spirits. The ever-expanding Academy of Art University has, for decades, redefined the term "art colony," buying up dozens of buildings throughout San Francisco and converting them into student housing — without the city's permission or even its knowledge. 
Stoking neighborhood groups' fears was language they interpreted to shift conversion of a structure into student housing from a feat requiring a "conditional use" hearing to an activity that was "principally permitted." The pernicious specter of sweeping up ever more American Spirit butts from one's stoop sent a shudder through the neighborhood activists' collective spine. 
How surprised they were to learn, on the cusp of last week's Planning Commission meeting, that the language in question regarding student housing wasn't new at all — but codified via city ordinance all the way back in 2012. "It slipped through," bemoans neighborhood activist Doug Engmann, a former Planning Commission president.

More @ SFWeekly 

The current Charter says the NRC, NLA, Cabinet and the junta have the right to 'propose' people to sit in the CDC in accordance with their quota. That means they can propose anybody, not specifically only their members, to be the constitution drafters. 
Rather than thinking of people participation and inclusive reform, the NRC decided to propose only 'its people' to draft the constitution, rejecting an idea to invite representatives of major political parties or other groups to join the task. 
Drafting and approving the new constitution is the only key task the NRC has been commissioned to do. If it does not allow so-called people participation to join the drafting charter, there is no other chance for people outside its jurisdiction to participate in this reform. 
For sure, the NLA, the Cabinet and the junta would do the same - or at best they might pick some 'like-minded' outsiders to sit on the CDC. 
It can be imagined that the new constitution will be nothing more than a charter for the winners which aims to limit, if not get rid of, the role of their enemies in politics or administration of the country.

More @ The Nation 

China, Iran grow naval ties

For China, the Iranian naval alliance offers a convenient way-station for Beijing’s widening outreach in Africa, and another bonding moment in the largely transactional ties between China and Iran. China needs Iran’s oil and gas, and Iran is happy to oblige to help offset Western-led sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program. 
A deepening Chinese-Iranian naval partnership also could be an extra win for Tehran. Iran often boasts about plans to modernize its fleet, but it remains limited to several diesel-electric submarines and a handful of frigate-class vessels, according to the U.S. Naval Institute. Chinese expertise could help fast-track some of Iran's goals, including integration of surveillance and attack drones onto its warships.

More @ Washington Post

A Confused "New Confucianism"

In the political realm, the ruling Communist Party has, rather ironically, embraced the Confucian revival. Invocations of Maoist-Marxist socialist rectitude ring hollow now in a society roiled by neo-liberal, crony-capitalist economic transformation. Better to say that the “rise of China” has returned it to historical greatness, creating all sorts of possibilities for connecting the Chinese present with the Chinese past, including Confucianism, however strained the allusions might be.
A decade ago, President Hu Jintao began to extoll China as a “harmonious society,” resonant with Confucian idealism. More recently, President Xi Jinping has regularly cited classic texts to bolster his image as a learned exemplar of civilized leadership. 
But these official references to Confucius, even if they were something more than political posturing, cannot counteract the much more powerful social and cultural changes sweeping across China. Rapid modernization in all of its manifestations – commercialization, urbanization, social mobility, the rise of the individual – have fundamentally transformed the contours of Chinese society.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Japan's news secrecy law may open can of worms with local governments

This redacted newspaper article is what Information Clearinghouse Japan, a non-profit civic group, received from the Japanese government after a public records request for figures on the number of grievances filed against police officers for civil rights abuses. ERIK SLAVIN/STARS AND STRIPES
If many of the items on the list have a less immediately visible impact on local politics, with the exception of areas like Okinawa, where there is an overbearing U.S. military presence, the justification for the last 19 in particular holds the potential for turmoil. 
Beyond the obvious questions of what is meant by “harmful activities” or “terrorism” lies a more fundamental issue: At what point is a “state” secret no longer merely national in nature but one that infringes upon “local” autonomy? 
Tokyo bureaucrats with a fetish for secrecy and a taste for power are apt to see “terrorists” everywhere they look, and to view any unauthorized activity — that is, activity not conducted by themselves — as “harmful.” But local police, assemblies and town heads don’t always share such views, and this is where concerns of effective cooperation between state and local authorities arise. 
Skeptical local governments may not wish to provide such information to Tokyo, especially about local residents, out of a belief that it falls outside the realm of the state secrets law. Likewise, they may request information about defense, diplomacy, or anti-terrorism measures in their prefecture or municipality that they deem necessary to enact local policies, only to be told it is classified and off-limits.

OOPS: South Korea tried to avoid Japan's deflationary ditch, ends up digging one of their own

The impact has been seen in the debt binge by South Korean households, which boosted borrowing from banks by a net 9.32 trillion won ($8.83 billion) during the August-September period mainly to buy homes, central bank data showed. The debt build-up is the most since the November-December period of 2006. 
Home purchases and retail sales have grown sharply since August, with the pickup aided by two interest rate cuts, widely seen to have been made under pressure from the government.
"The broad view (in June when Choi was nominated) was the global economy would be doing fine although domestic demand was lagging behind, but the situation has changed sharply by now as we just saw from the GDP data," said Oh Suk-tae, economist at SG Securities in Seoul.

More @ Reuters

ASEAN's response - or lack thereof - to the ensuing South China Sea crisis

(image from

At the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting this August, the South China Sea disputes clearly remained a pressing issue with the final communiqué stressing, “We remained seriously concerned over recent developments which had increased tensions in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, maritime security as well as freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea.” 
Despite this reassurance, however, ASEAN remained silent on any definitive moratorium on all activities in the disputed territory; though noted, both the proposals from the US’ “FREEZE” and the Philippines’ “Triple Action Plan” were rejected despite claims from all sides that the DOC has not been respected by China. 
Typically, China attempted to downplay this issue with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claiming, “someone has been exaggerating or even playing up the so-called tension in the South China Sea.” In a noticeably tenacious reply, the Philippines Foreign Minister, Albert del Rosario criticized China of playing “deaf and blind.”