“It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar.”

― Edward W. Said

"A developing country that wants to develop its economy must first of all keep natural resources in its own hands."
- Deng Xiaoping

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How the World Consumes Media—in Charts and Maps A map of TV and mobile-phone usage looks like a 50-year history of the growth of the global middle class.

By Derek Thompson

The Atlantic - May 28 2014

When I shared my highlights of Mary Meeker's ginormous presentation about the future of the Internet, one graph got more attention than everything else combined. It's the chart that leads this article, which shows screen time by screen type around the world.
I received some requests to break out the data in maps and customizable tables. Requests granted. This first interactive table will tell you which countries watch the most TV, stare longest at their tablets, and get lost most reliably in the glassy glares of their smartphones. (Darkened bars denote countries that are number-one in at least one category.)

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Global inequality, within and between countries

FAMILY INEQUALITY - May 23, 2014

Most of the talk about income inequality is about inequality within countries – between rich and poor Americans, versus between rich and poor Swedes, for example. The new special issue of Science magazine about inequality focuses that way as well, for example with this nice figure showing inequality within countries around the world.
But what if there were no income inequality within countries? If everyone within each country had the same income, but we still had rich and poor countries, how unequal would our world be? It turns out that’s an easy question to answer.
Using data from the World Bank on income for 131 countries, comprising 91% of the world population, here is the Lorenz curve showing the distribution of gross national income (GNI) by population, with each person in each country assumed to have the same income (using the purchasing power parity currency conversion). I’ve marked the place of the three largest countries: China, India, and the USA:

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Thomas Piketty: Capitalism in Its Current Form Undermines Democracy

By Thomas Piketty

Truthout - Wednesday, 28 May 2014

"Social distinctions can be based only on common utility."—Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, article 1, 1789
The distribution of wealth is one of today's most widely discussed and controversial issues. But what do we really know about its evolution over the long term? Do the dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, as Karl Marx believed in the nineteenth century? Or do the balancing forces of growth, competition, and technological progress lead in later stages of development to reduced inequality and greater harmony among the classes, as Simon Kuznets thought in the twentieth century? What do we really know about how wealth and income have evolved since the eighteenth century, and what lessons can we derive from that knowledge for the century now under way?
These are the questions I attempt to answer in this book. Let me say at once that the answers contained herein are imperfect and incomplete. But they are based on much more extensive historical and comparative data than were available to previous researchers, data covering three centuries and more than twenty countries, as well as on a new theoretical framework that affords a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have made it possible to avoid the Marxist apocalypse but have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality—or in any case not as much as one might have imagined in the optimistic decades following World War II. When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based. There are nevertheless ways democracy can regain control over capitalism and ensure that the general interest takes precedence over private interests, while preserving economic openness and avoiding protectionist and nationalist reactions. The policy recommendations I propose later in the book tend in this direction. They are based on lessons derived from historical experience, of which what follows is essentially a narrative....

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Future of Food?

By Dahr Jamail

Truthout  - Tuesday, 27 May 2014 

Imagine a fish farm and vegetable garden that produces 500,000 pounds of fresh fish and 150,000 heads of lettuce annually.
Now imagine that the farm uses aquaponics, aquaculture and greenhouses, and is actually a reclaimed, bio-remediated wastewater treatment plant.
Lastly, imagine that, despite being located less than four miles from the downtown area of a city of more than six million people, it is completely self-sustaining and leaves no carbon footprint.
This lofty ideal is not a dream. It is in the process of becoming a reality.
The farm is the brainchild of artist Jack Massing and restaurateur Rob Cromie, and the city is Houston, Texas.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil by Timothy Mitchell

Verso Books, 2011

How oil undermines democracy, and our ability to address the environmental crisis.

Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues from oil production, and in the places that have the greatest demand for energy.
Timothy Mitchell begins with the history of coal power to tell a radical new story about the rise of democracy. Coal was a source of energy so open to disruption that oligarchies in the West became vulnerable for the first time to mass demands for democracy. In the mid-twentieth century, however, the development of cheap and abundant energy from oil, most notably from the Middle East, offered a means to reduce this vulnerability to democratic pressures. The abundance of oil made it possible for the first time in history to reorganize political life around the management of something now called "the economy" and the promise of its infinite growth. The politics of the West became dependent on an undemocratic Middle East.
In the twenty-first century, the oil-based forms of modern democratic politics have become unsustainable. Foreign intervention and military rule are faltering in the Middle East, while governments everywhere appear incapable of addressing the crises that threaten to end the age of carbon democracy—the disappearance of cheap energy and the carbon-fuelled collapse of the ecological order.
In making the production of energy the central force shaping the democratic age, Carbon Democracy rethinks the history of energy, the politics of nature, the theory of democracy, and the place of the Middle East in our common world.

A New Book: Obama Power Jeffrey C. Alexander and Bernadette N. Jaworsky

Obama Power 
Jeffrey C. Alexander and Bernadette N. Jaworsky 
Polity Press, 2014

What is the source of Obama's power? How is it that, after suffering a humiliating defeat in the 2010 mid-term elections, Obama was able to turn the situation around, deftly outmaneuvering his opponent and achieving a decisive victory in the November 2012 presidential election?
In this short and brilliant book, Jeffrey Alexander and Bernadette Jaworsky argue that neither money nor demography can explain this dramatic turnaround. What made it possible, they show, was cultural reconstruction. Realizing he had failed to provide a compelling narrative of his power, the President began forging a new salvation story. It portrayed the Republican austerity budget as a sop to the wealthy, and Obama as a courageous hero fighting for plain folks against the rich. The reinvigorated cultural performance pushed the Tea Party off the political stage in 2011, and Mitt Romney became fodder for the script in 2012. Democrats painted their Republican opponent as a backward-looking elitist, a "Bain-capitalist" whose election would threaten the civil solidarity upon which democracy depends.
Real world events can spoil even the most effective script. Obama faced monthly unemployment numbers, the daunting Bin Laden raid, three live debates, and Hurricane Sandy. The clumsiness of his opponent and his own good fortune helped the President, but it was the poise and felicity of his improvisations that allowed him to succeed a second time. Converting events into plot points, the President demonstrated the flair for the dramatic that has made him one of the most effective politicians of modern times.
While persuasively explaining Obama’s success, this book also demonstrates a fundamental but rarely appreciated truth about political power in modern democratic societies - namely, that winning power and holding on to it have as much to do with the ability to use symbols effectively and tell good stories as anything else.

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Interpretation of Politics
Chapter 2: Symbolic Deflation
Chapter 3: Reflation
Chapter 4: Setting the Stage
Chapter 5: Unfolding the Drama
Chapter 6: Pulling Ahead
Chapter 7: Harrowing Home Stretch
Chapter 8: Making Meaning

Thomas Piketty Discusses, "Capital In The 21st Century"


European Parliament Elections 2014: Results

Interactive by Jovi Juan, Gabriele Steinhauser, Elliot Bentley

The Wall Street Journal - May 25, 2014 

Euroskeptic and anti-European Union parties made big gains in the first European elections since the euro-zone debt crisis that has shaken the continent over the past five years. Projections from the European Parliament – based on national results and estimates – show that nationalist and anti-EU parties (which dominate the NI and EFD groupings) could get around 140 of 751 seats in the new legislature. This is up from around 60 seats in the 2009 election.

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Vietnam won’t be pushed around by China

By H.D.S. Greenway

BOSTON GLOBE - May 25, 2014

Vietnam may prove harder to push around than some of China’s other maritime neighbors in contested waters. Vietnamese and Chinese ships recently rammed each other and fired water cannons to contest China’s bringing in a giant oil rig off the barren sandspits called the Paracel Archipelago that both claim in the South China Sea. It was not the first such confrontation.
Forty years ago, when there was still a South Vietnam, I watched South Vietnamese war ships holed by gunfire limp home into the port of Danang. They had not been fighting their mortal enemy, North Vietnam. They had clashed with Chinese forces off those same disputed Paracel islands that lie about equidistant from the Chinese and Vietnamese coasts. China made a big fuss over the confrontation at the time, saying its forces had protected the motherland. South Vietnam scored a propaganda victory over Hanoi by calling upon all Vietnamese, of whatever political persuasion, to denounce the Chinese occupation of sacred Vietnamese soil.

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Thomas Piketty's 'Capital' in 3 minutes


'Subcomandante Marcos No Longer Exists:' Zapatista Leader Retires His Nom de Guerre

By Alice Speri

VICE - May 26, 2014

With an enigmatic statement, the iconic leader of Mexico’s National Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN) announced over the weekend that he no longer speaks for the movement.  The pipe-smoking, balaclava-masked leader of the revolutionary leftist guerrilla group that has fought for indigenous people’s rights since a 1994 rebellion in the southern state of Chiapas, said that his persona is being retired.  But it is not so clear whether the leader is actually stepping down, or whether this is one of his latest attempts to reinvent his role at the helm of the movement.

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To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men axed as Gove orders more Brit lit

New English literature GCSE ditches American classics for pre-20th century British authors such as Dickens and Austen  

By Maev Kennedy        

The Guardian, Sunday 25 May 2014

Academics and writers have reacted angrily to plans to drop classic American novels including To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men from the GCSE curriculum as a result of the insistence by the education secretary, Michael Gove, on students studying more British literature.
The new English literature GCSE syllabus to be published this week by OCR, one of the biggest UK exam boards, will leave out Harper Lee's Pulitzer-prizewinning 1960 novel of racism in the American south. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and Arthur Miller's play The Crucible – in which the Salem witch-hunts serve as a metaphor for McCarthyite anti-communist zealotry – will also disappear from the list, according to the Sunday Times. Another exam board, Edexcel, is expected to follow suit.
Although a statement from the Department for Education insisted that it was not banning anything, Paul Dodd of OCR attributed the change directly to the education secretary. "Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past. Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic," he told the Sunday Times.
Christopher Bigsby, professor of American studies at the University of East Anglia, and the biographer of Arthur Miller, said the "union jack of culture" was now fluttering over Gove's department.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

What Is The New Populism?

By Robert Borosage, Campaign For America's Future

Truthout - Friday, 23 May 2014

These remarks were prepared for delivery at The New Populism Conference in Washington, May 22, 2014.
What is the new populism? The Princeton dictionary defines populism as "a political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite."
Not bad for a dictionary.
The New Populism arises from the stark truth about today's America: Too few people control too much money and power, and they're using that control to rig the rules to protect and extend their privileges.
This economy does not work for working people. This isn't an accident. It isn't an act of God. It isn't due to forces of technology and globalization that can't be changed. It isn't a mistake. It is a power grab.
Decades of deregulation and top-end tax cuts, of soaring CEO pay and assaults on unions, of conservative myths and market fundamentalism have recreated Gilded Age extremes of wealth and power. Once more a new American plutocracy is emerging, doing what plutocrats always do – corrupting government to protect and expand their fortunes.
Americans don't tolerate self-perpetuating aristocracies easily. Opposition to aristocratic wealth is as American as apple pie, dating back to the American Revolution, to Jefferson who warned about the "aristocracy of monied corporations."
The Populist Tradition
The movement that gave populism its name swept out of the Plains states in the late 19th century as small farmers and steelworkers, day laborers and sharecroppers came together to take on the trusts, the railroads, the distant banks that were impoverishing them.

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'Journalist' Argues In NY Times That Publishing Decisions Should Ultimately Be Made By Government

By Barry Eisler

Freedom of The Press Foundation - May 22, 2014

Glenn Greenwald spends the last third of his excellent new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State, exposing the mentality and function of pseudo-journalists like David Gregory, who are in fact better understood as courtiers to power. So it was kind of Michael Kinsley to offer himself up today as living proof of Greenwald's arguments.

In a New York Times book review, Kinsley says:

"The question is who decides [what to publish]. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government."

Pause for a moment to let that sink in. How can the government have ultimate decision-making power consistent with the First Amendment with regard to the publication of leaks? As Kinsley himself goes on to say, "You can't square this circle." Indeed. Unless you believe the government should be able to impose prior restraint on the publication of anything it deems secret. Unless you want to argue that the Constitution should be amended accordingly. Unless you believe the government should have been able to prevent the publication of, say, the Pentagon Papers (it certainly tried).

By the way, that "in a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are)" is worth pausing to consider. Not just for the pretentious use of pace, which I admit is amusing, but more for the childlike notion that America is a democracy and there's nothing more to be said about it. It's almost like Kinsley has never heard of gerrymandering, or doesn't understand that when voters are no longer choosing their politicians and politicians are now choosing their voters, democracy isn't what's at work. It's almost like he's never heard of former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson's argument that modern America is best understood as an oligarchy (pro tip for Kinsley: oligarchies and democracies are not the same thing). It's almost like he's never even heard of Noam Chomsky (more on whom below — for now, suffice to say that Chomsky is great at explaining people like Kinsley, who are simultaneously sophisticated about irrelevancies and simple-minded about fundamentals).

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‘Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government’ — Arundhati Roy

Dawn - May 23, 2014

By  Tahir Mehdi

In Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.  “The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”  India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.  “What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.  “Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”  Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.”

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks

Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science  • How Donors Trust distributed millions to anti-climate groups. 

By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent    

The Guardian, Thursday 14 February 2013

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.
The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising "wedge issue" for hardcore conservatives.
The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.
Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust told the Guardian that her organisation assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Work It! The New Face of Labor in Fashion

By Annemarie Strassel

Dissent Magazine - Spring 2014

The 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh evoked iconic moments in labor history when primarily young, female participants in the garment industry suffered and organized for their lives. Today, the chain of young, female, often migrant labor stretches from the ruined factories of Bangladesh to global style centers like New York and London, where legions of underpaid or unpaid interns, models, and other workers form a creative underclass. In the United States, many have few or no protections under the National Labor Relations Act. And unlike factory workers, the creative side of the industry is just beginning to organize. Both sides are working to close the geographic and conceptual space dividing fashion and labor.
In September 2013 Nautica’s Spring 2014 runway show was interrupted by an unusual coalition of models and Bangladeshi garment workers, protesting the company’s failure to sign a factory safety accord backed by Calvin Klein, Zara, and other major labels. Spearheading the effort was Kalpona Akter, a former child factory worker turned executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, and Sara Ziff, the head of Model Alliance, an advocacy organization for models.

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Has the United States' Use of Finance as a Foreign Policy Tool Backfired?

Truthout - Thursday, 22 May 2014
 
By Yves Smith

From the 1980s onward, one of the major aims of American foreign policy has been to make the world safer for US investment bankers. That might seem like an exaggeration until you look at the priorities of American economic policy as well as the actions of US-dominated international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. The World Bank, though its International Finance Corporations, pushed emerging economies to set up capital markets. The posture was that more open markets were always better.
Now that we’ve had repeated tsunamis of hot money flows in and out of small economies wreak havoc with them, conventional wisdom among development economists is more along the lines of “protectionism in emerging economies is desirable so they can develop companies and/or export sectors that are capable of competing internationally, and also serve domestic markets, so that the economy isn’t too export dependent. Open capital markets produce too much volatility in interest and foreign exchange rates and thus undermine internal development.”

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Monkey Cage Is this the end of Sykes-Picot?

By F. Gregory Gause III

The Washington Post - May 20, 2014

The intensity of the civil war in Syria, combined with the continued upheavals in Iraq and the endemic instability of Lebanese politics, has naturally led to speculation that the famously “artificial” borders in the eastern Arab world, drawn by Britain and France in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, are on their last legs. Are the state entities created by European colonialism in the 1920s about to collapse? Are we about to see a grand redrawing of the borders in the Middle East? The short answer to this question is no. While none of these three states will be able to claim effective governance within their borders anytime soon, the borders themselves are not going to change. They are devolving into what the political scientist Robert Jackson perceptively referred to as “quasi-states,” internationally recognized de jure as sovereign even though they cannot implement de facto the functional requisites that sovereignty assumes – control of territory and borders. Real governance in the eastern Arab world is certainly up for grabs, but the borders themselves will be the last things to change, because almost none of the actors, either regionally or internationally, really want them to change.

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Pakistan: Worse Than We Knew

Ahmed Rashid

The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014

By Carlotta Gall

The New York Review of Books - June 5, 2014

During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks.
Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White

The New York Times -  MAY 21, 2014

By Nate Cohn

Hispanics are often described as driving up the nonwhite share of the population. But a new study of census forms finds that more Hispanics are identifying as white.
An estimated net 1.2 million Americans of the 35 million Americans identified in 2000 as of “Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” as the census form puts it, changed their race from “some other race” to “white” between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, according to research presented at an annual meeting of the Population Association of America and reported by Pew Research.
The researchers, who have not yet published their findings, compared individual census forms from the 2000 and 2010 censuses. They found that millions of Americans answered the census questions about race and ethnicity differently in 2000 and 2010. The largest shifts were among Americans of Hispanic origin, who are the nation’s fastest growing ethnic group by total numbers.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gulf Futurism' Is Killing People

By Nathalie Olah

VICE - May 15 2014

At the end of last month, construction began on the world’s newest tallest building. This 3,281-foot-high spike rising out of the relatively modest plains of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will be almost twice as tall as the Freedom Tower and reach 590 feet higher than the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The Kingdom Tower—an absurdly vague name, but one that at least seems justified for a building this enormous—is a statement of national pride, an opportunity for Saudi Arabia and its Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (one of the richest men in the Middle East, and the project’s creator) to assert their presence on the world stage. It’s also the zenith in the long line of sci-fi-inspired buildings and rapid transit systems that have come to define Gulf architecture over the past 20 years.
It’s not exactly surprising that cities throughout the Middle East look like they’ve been inspired by a less-dystopian version of the Blade Runner universe. In 2005, the film’s “futurist designer” Syd Mead visited the region and met with Bahraini royal Sheik Abdullah Hamad Khalifa to discuss building projects. And despite all its patriotic function, the Kingdom Tower is itself a work of American creation. Designed by Chicago firm Smith Gill, it’s loosely based on plans for an architectural pipe-dream of the seminal Frank Lloyd Wright: a one-mile-high tower called the Illinois. Unfortunately, planners at the site in Saudi Arabia deemed the original height too tall for the relatively unstable terrain of the Red Sea Coast.

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Chinese thinktank hails Narendra Modi as 'India's Nixon'

By Saibal Dasgupta

THE TIMES OF INDIA | May 21, 2014

BEIJING: A Chinese government thinktank has welcomed prime minister-designate Narendra Modi as "India's Nixon" who would hugely expand business with China. It also described Modi's approach towards governance as "very close to Chinese practices".

In 1972, US president Richard Nixon's visit to the Communist nation was dubbed as "the week that changed the world" and had significant geopolitical ramifications that included a shift in the Cold War balance, bringing China and the US together.

Chinese government expert with the Shanghai Institute for International Practices, Liu Zongyi, contesting fears in some Chinese quarters that Modi could be autocratic, said, "As a right-winger in Indian politics, Modi is more likely to become India's 'Nixon' who will further propel the China-India relationship... Modi's governance style and philosophy are very close to Chinese practices." Nixon is still admired in China for breaking the deadlock between the two countries in the 1970s.
                                                                                                                                                             


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The Italian Disaster

By Perry Anderson

London Review of Books - Vol. 36 No. 10 · 22 May 2014 pages 3-16 

Europe is ill. How seriously, and why, are matters not always easy to judge. But among the symptoms three are conspicuous, and inter-related. The first, and most familiar, is the degenerative drift of democracy across the continent, of which the structure of the EU is at once cause and consequence. The oligarchic cast of its constitutional arrangements, once conceived as provisional scaffolding for a popular sovereignty of supranational scale to come, has over time steadily hardened. Referendums are regularly overturned, if they cross the will of rulers. Voters whose views are scorned by elites shun the assembly that nominally represents them, turnout falling with each successive election. Bureaucrats who have never been elected police the budgets of national parliaments dispossessed even of spending powers. But the Union is not an excrescence on member states that might otherwise be healthy enough. It reflects, as much as it deepens, long-term trends within them. At national level, virtually everywhere, executives domesticate or manipulate legislatures with greater ease; parties lose members; voters lose belief that they count, as political choices narrow and promises of difference on the hustings dwindle or vanish in office.

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Opinion 3-D print your way to freedom and prosperity

The hidden politics of the ‘maker’ movement

Al-Jazeera - May 17, 2014

by Jathan Sadowski

The “maker” movement is often lauded as the harbinger of a new industrial revolution. Thanks to 3-D printers and other tools like them, digital bits can be transformed into material atoms on the spot. “Making,” as it is known, essentially comes down to assembling discarded items, repurposing existing ones and, importantly, personal fabrication to create new objects and utensils. And it can all be done on-site, at a small scale, and with inventive tweaks: No need to go to the store or ship goods. Just make what you need, when you need it, for your own unique purposes.  President Barack Obama, in his 2013 State of the Union address, threw his weight behind the maker movement. “Three-D printing [has] the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything,” he said. And in February, the White House announced that later this year it would be hosting its own Maker Faire as a way “to make the most of this emerging movement.” Add to that the fact that the maker movement is the subject of a new documentary, “Print the Legend” — which premiered in March at the tech conference and festival South by Southwest and will be widely available on Netflix this year — and it’s safe to say makers are quickly heading into mainstream culture.  The appeal of this movement is readily apparent. What’s not to like with a revolution that — according to tech gurus, media and politicians alike — is seemingly so democratizing, empowering and profitable?

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How Russia's Shared Kitchens Helped Shape Soviet Politics

By The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva)

NPR - May 20, 2014

In the decades following the 1917 Russian Revolution, most people in Moscow lived in communal apartments; seven or more families crammed together where there had been one, sharing one kitchen and one bathroom. They were crowded; stove space and food were limited. Clotheslines were strewn across the kitchen, the laundry of one family dripping into the omelet of another.  As the Soviet Union industrialized from the 1920s to the 1950s, and millions poured into Moscow from the countryside, one of the goals of the new government was to provide housing for the workers. It started putting people into apartments that had been occupied by the rich or by aristocrats who had been driven out by the new regime.  "The communal apartment was like a microcosm of Soviet society," says , author of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. "People from all walks of life, sometimes absolute class enemies, living next to each other. The expression was 'densed up.' The allotment was 9 square meters per person."

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

The World's Biggest Oil Companies

By Christopher Helman

Forbes - 7/16/2012

Every once in a while it’s good to remind ourselves who really controls the world’s horde of oil and gas. When you here the words “Big Oil” the company that likely springs first to mind is ExxonMobil. But in reality there are far bigger players than Exxon. More than 70% of world oil reserves, and an even greater percentage of the remaining reserves of “easy oil” are held by national oil companies controlled by kings and potentates and even some democratically elected governments like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Norway.
But when sorting through the rankings of the World’s 25 Biggest Oil Companies and looking at who controls and influences the biggest of big oil one thing becomes clear: no industry leader has more sway, has twisted more arms or made more deals than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Read more....

Obama prepares to smash BRICS during his last few years in office

Press TV - Wed May 7, 2014

The buildup of NATO air and ground forces along the borders of Russia in eastern Europe and President Barack Obama’s American power-influencing trip to Asia have a single purpose. The seen and unseen forces who dictate policy to their political puppets in Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and other vassal capital cities have decided to smash BRICS -- the emergent financial power bloc encompassing Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. 

Bilateral and multilateral discussions among the five emerging economic powers aimed at decoupling BRICS economies from the US dollar as a reserve and trading currency have met with the only power Washington can muster on behalf of itself and its foundering allies -- military force. The problems between Ukraine and Russia over Crimea and federalism within Ukraine are a mask designed to cover Obama’s true intentions, which are the smashing of the BRICS as a viable alternative to the neo-colonialist financial systems of the West and subsuming the economies of the BRICS to the whims of the United States and the ever-teetering European Union. 

The G-8, which suspended Russia from membership, and the World Trade Organization, of which Russia is now a member, never had a thing to do with free trade and common economic policies. These contrivances, formed in the back rooms by the bankers of the Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg Group, were always about unipolar domination of the world by a single superpower. Since the end of World War II and the collapse of the once-dominant British Empire, that superpower has been the United States.

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Who’s Afraid of Free Speech?

Not universities—we host controversial debates all the time. It's the commencement speakers that are running scared. 

By JAMES M. GOLDGEIER 

Politico - May 18, 2014

News reports on college commencement season previously consisted of anodyne lists of the famous and near-famous appearing on campuses across the country, with occasional sound bites of their remarks. Now there appears to be a media watch list to see who will be the next high-profile speaker to decline to appear in cap and gown rather than address restive graduates angry at what the honorary degree recipient represents. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, still tarred by the Iraq war, chose not to give her planned remarks at Rutgers University. Smith College students seem not to have anything against International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde personally, but blame the organization she leads for various ills inflicted on other parts of the world—and the ensuing controversy over her remarks kept Lagarde away. Students at Haverford College demanded Robert Birgeneau apologize for the deployment of campus police against university students protesting tuition increases and budget cuts during his time as chancellor of Berkeley. He, too, chose to cancel.  As the pace has picked up in recent years of commencement no-shows, the invited speakers have provided a familiar magnanimous refrain: Commencement is a time of celebration for students and their families, and we do not wish to be a distraction. Of course, with that statement and their decision not to appear, they provided further distraction, and certainly much more media attention than if they had actually attended commencement. When Rutgers invited Rice, the university knew that any high-level George W. Bush administration official remains controversial due to the Iraq war, as did she. Presumably that would not have been the subject of her address, and her distinguished career provides much motivational material for graduates. 

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Radical Art Is an Act of Uncompromising Passionate Resistance

Truthout | Op-Ed Sunday, 18 May 2014 

By Mark Karlin

Marxian playwright Bertolt Brecht declared of revolutionary art: "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." Brecht's work - whose artistic career in Germany (except for his exile during the Nazi era, after which he returned to found the Berliner Ensemble Theater company in East Berlin) spanned from the Russian Revolution to his death in 1966 - illustrated, during his career, that revolutionary art must avoid the pitfalls of becoming co-opted by propaganda or commercialization.
Brecht believed that to be a radical and revolutionary artist is to be defiant of any imposition of form or content by any economic system, artistic academy or political status quo.
"Mother Courage and Her Children," considered by some as the theatrical masterpiece of the 20th Century, combines a radical aesthetic with an anti-fascist theme: The masses suffer from wars fought to enrich profiteers. But Brecht also kept his distance from the Soviet-mandated art that glorified Stalin and communism.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

MAP: Every Country's Highest-Valued Export

By Simran Khosla, GlobalPost

Business Insider - May 14, 2014,

Using data from the CIA Factbook, we labeled every country in the world by its highest-valued export, aka the commodity that makes the country the most money in the global market.  Unsurprisingly, most of the world runs on oil, particularly the Middle East and Central Asia. Europe seems to be the world's workshop, where most of the machinery and motor vehicles are made.  The type of machinery ranges from optical instruments to BMWs. Latin America brings a blend of food products and oil to the trading table.  Asia, it seems, is the world's manufacturing center, where the world's clothing, wood products, and semiconductors are made.   Africa is extremely rich in natural resources, particularly precious metals and oil. A substantial part of the continent makes its money on diamonds, gold, or oil. 
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Friday, May 16, 2014

Internet Users in the World



The Public Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu

By Mark Carrigan

Sociological Imagination -  May 15, 2014   

The thing I like most about Bourdieu is his conception of public sociology. It seems clear to me that Bourdieu was a public sociologist, though others are less certain about this and I suspect it’s not a term he would have chosen to use himself. The book of talks I’m basing this post on is here and all the references are from this book.
The Challenge of ‘Globalisation’ 
The politics of these talks are rooted in the anti-globalisation movement of the late 90s and early 00s. As such, Bourdieu’s attentiveness to the political rhetoric of ‘globalisation’ is not a surprise. He draws attention to the double meaning of ‘globalisation’: the descriptive sense of a unification of the economic field and the normative sense of the desirability that these changes are supported through economic policy. The slight of hand arises because the former is often used to disguise the latter i.e. economic ‘reality’ is invoked to justify the pursuit of policies which are themselves responsible for the putative ‘reality’. The global market is a political creation, much as national markets had been, arising from “policy implemented by a set of agents and institutions, and the result of the application of rules deliberately created for specific ends, namely trade liberalisation (that is, the elimination of all national regulations restricting companies and their investments)” (pg 84). Bourdieu argues that ‘globalisation’ is a ‘pseudo-concept’, at once descriptive and prescriptive, which has replaced ‘modernization’ as the intellectualised trappings for the ideology of late capitalism.

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Academics should stop moaning – university life has many perks

Academic work offers much more flexibility and freedom than other jobs    

theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014

Last month over coffee, a talented PhD student in my department asked me whether it was realistic for her to pursue an academic career, given that she wants to have children soon.
The relentless negativity she had been hearing from other postdocs was making her doubt her career choice. It felt like breaking an almighty taboo, but I told her that being a parent with young kids, and an academic, can actually make for a nice life.
Let's get the caveats out of the way. There are structural problems in the academic workplace, and as other contributors to the Academics Anonymous blog attest, many seem to be getting worse, not better.
These pressures are more pronounced in some universities, and I have no doubt got off lightly working in a series of Russell Group institutions. Even so, I still don't have a permanent post and don't expect one in the next few years, despite having finished my undergraduate degree more than a decade ago.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Shariah Saunas by Damac Boost Dubai Global Push: Islamic Finance

By Dana El Baltaji

Bloomberg - May 13, 2014

Damac Real Estate Development Ltd. (DMC) is bolstering Dubai’s drive to lead the global Islamic economy with serviced apartments that are Shariah-compliant from their financing to their restaurants and saunas.
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank PJSC (ADIB) is managing the project’s funding as Damac, which issued its debut sukuk last month, sells the certified Islamic residences, Niall Mc Loughlin, the Dubai-based developer’s senior vice president of communication, said May 12. The company’s Constella property will have segregated swimming pools and gyms, separate floors for women and won’t serve alcohol or pork.
Damac is benefiting from Dubai’s real estate- and tourism-led economic recovery, with the government predicting property prices will surge as much as 40 percent this year. The emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, set a three-year timetable in October to become the capital of the Islamic economy, seeking to overtake centers such as Malaysia.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Surveillance Posing as Counter-Terrorism

Foreward to "The Rise of the American Corporate Security State"

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

By Jesselyn Radack, Berrett-Koehler | Book Excerpt

Truthout - May 13, 2014

Daniel Ellsberg writes of The American Corporate Security State: "Edwards is an extraordinary writer who brilliantly captures the essence of what whistleblowers such as Snowden have sacrificed their careers and jeopardized their personal liberties to convey." Get the book by contributing to Truthout here.

In the pages that follow, Bea Edwards shows the post-9/11 merger of corporate wealth and government power in the United States - beneath a thinning veneer of democracy. The book in your hands explains the way in which this private/public collaboration gives policy-making over to profit-seeking corporate interests, which then become a direct threat to our civil rights and our way of life.
Peace and financial stability are the first casualties. Increasingly, well-connected corporate directors, with their privileged access to military resources and the national treasury, placed the country on a permanent war footing even as they dismantled government regulation of their businesses. They made a series of decisions and actions that the public never considered, debated, or approved, even indirectly.
The Rise of the American Corporate Security State examines the way corporate power behaves when it takes a dominant role in government policy-making and explains the advent of endless war. For profit-seekers, war is desirable for three reasons:
  1. It is extremely lucrative for some companies.
  2. The withdrawal of civil liberties is simpler in wartime because people are frightened.
  3. The public accepts greater official secrecy because the nation is under threat of attack.
War justifies the dragnet electronic surveillance of Americans; the government claims to protect us by searching for the terrorists among us. The government also justifies withholding information about its actions, citing national security.

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The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy

Raj Patel

Picador 2010

Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced.  He reveals the hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place.  Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system.
 
If part one asks how we can rebalance society and limit markets, part two answers by showing how social organizations, in America and around the globe, are finding new ways to describe the world's worth.  If we don't want the market to price every aspect of our lives, we need to learn how such organizations have discovered democratic ways in which people, and not simply governments, can play a crucial role in deciding how we might share our world and its resources in common.
 
This short, timely and inspiring book reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics.  While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one.  If economics is about choices, Patel writes, it isn't often said who gets to make them.  The Value of Nothing offers a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Europe London has the most billionaires in the world

The billionaire population in the British capital is higher than any other city, including Moscow and New York.

Al-Jazeera - 11 May 2014

London has more billionaires - in pounds sterling - than any other city around the globe, The Sunday Times has reported.
According to the newspaper's annual rich list, the British capital is home to 72 people with family wealth of more than £1bn ($1.68bn).
The majority of billionaires in London were born abroad, reflecting the appeal of the city to elite international investors, Reuters news agency said.
The second most billionaire-rich city is Moscow, which has 48, followed by New York and San Francisco with 43 and 42 billionaires respectively.

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Overworked and isolated - work pressure fuels mental illness in academia

Claire Shaw        

Guardian Professional, Thursday 8 May 2014

Academics suffering mental health problems blame their university work directly for their illness, exclusive findings from a Guardian survey reveal.
Heavy workloads, lack of support and isolation are the key factors contributing to mental illness, according to respondents, who range from PhD students to vice-chancellors.
The Guardian survey, which specifically targeted academics suffering mental health problems, found that two-thirds of more than 2,500 who responded see their illness as a direct result of their university job.
Senior lecturers and those aged between 55-64 years feel most strongly about this connection.
Over half of academics, from the UK and overseas, say a heavy workload is having an impact on their mental health. A lack of support is also a key issue affecting 44% of respondents, which is felt across all ages from 25-64 years.
Just under half of respondents say they feel isolated, and others raise concerns around a "bullying culture", job insecurity and a culture of long working hours. A pressure to publish is felt by more than a third of 25-34 year olds.

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'Killer robots' and their use to be debated at United Nations

By Heather Saul 

The Independent - Saturday 10 May 2014

Killer robots and their use will be debated during a meeting of experts at the United Nations in Geneva, amid fears that once created they could pose a “threat to humanity”. 
Prof Ronald Arkin and Prof Noel Sharkey will debate the need for so-called killer robots during the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), marking the first time the issue of killer robots has been discussed within the CCW.
Killer robots are autonomous machines able to identify and kill targets without human input.

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Rice Theory: Why Eastern Cultures Are More Cooperative

by Michaeleen Doucleff

NPR - May 08, 2014

Ask Americans to describe themselves, and chances are you'll get adjectives like "energetic," "friendly" or "hard-working."
In Japan, the responses would likely be much different. "Dependent on others" and "considerate" might pop up, studies have found.
Psychologists have known for a long time that people in East Asia think differently, on average, than do those in the U.S. and Europe. Easterners indeed tend to be more cooperative and intuitive, while Westerners lean toward individualism and analytical thinking.
Now psychologists have evidence that our ancestors planted some of these cultural differences hundreds of years ago when they chose which grains to sow.

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Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S.

By Jeff Stein

Newsweek / May 6, 2014

Whatever happened to honor among thieves? When the National Security Agency was caught eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, it was considered a rude way to treat a friend. Now U.S. intelligence officials are saying—albeit very quietly, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill—that our Israeli “friends” have gone too far with their spying operations here.
According to classified briefings on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have “crossed red lines.”
Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and unseemly, counterspies have told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, going far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan. A congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Another staffer called it “damaging.”

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Professors Are Prejudiced, Too

By DOLLY CHUGH, KATHERINE L. MILKMAN and MODUPE AKINOLA

The New York Times - May 9, 2014

IN the world of higher education, we professors like to believe that we are free from the racial and gender biases that afflict so many other people in society. But is this self-conception accurate?

To find out, we conducted an experiment. A few years ago, we sent emails to more than 6,500 randomly selected professors from 259 American universities. Each email was from a (fictional) prospective out-of-town student whom the professor did not know, expressing interest in the professor’s Ph.D. program and seeking guidance. These emails were identical and written in impeccable English, varying only in the name of the student sender. The messages came from students with names like Meredith Roberts, Lamar Washington, Juanita Martinez, Raj Singh and Chang Huang, names that earlier research participants consistently perceived as belonging to either a white, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese student. In total, we used 20 different names in 10 different race-gender categories (e.g. white male, Hispanic female).

On a Monday morning, the emails went out — one email per professor — and then we waited to see which professors would write back to which students. We understood, of course, that some professors would naturally be unavailable or uninterested in mentoring. But we also knew that the average treatment of any particular type of student should not differ from that of any other — unless professors were deciding (consciously or not) which students to help on the basis of their race and gender. (This “audit” methodology has long been used to study intentional and unintentional bias in real-world decision-making, as it allows researchers to standardize much about the decision environment.)

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Has wealth made Qatar happy?

By Matthew Teller

Doha, Qatar

BBC - April 28, 2014

Oil and gas have made Qatar the richest country in the world - rich enough to be ready, apparently, to spend $200bn (£120bn) on stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. But has virtually limitless wealth brought the country happiness?
It's still cool enough to sit outside in Qatar's capital, Doha. In another few weeks it will be too hot and most people - those who don't have to work outside - will be retreating indoors to the comfort of air-conditioning.
For now, though, families relax in the afternoon sun on the waterfront promenade, the Corniche. The view has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Glass and steel towers rise like an artificial forest from what was once a shoreline of flat sand.
"We have become urban," says Dr Kaltham Al Ghanim, a sociology professor at Qatar University. "Our social and economic life has changed - families have become separated, consumption culture has taken over."

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Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Buys Turkey's Tekstilbank

By M Rochan    

International Business Times - April 29, 2014

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is set to acquire Turkey's Tekstil Bankasi.
The move will gives China's biggest lender access to new business and could help it offset a lending slowdown at home, which has pulled down profit growth to its weakest in about five years.
ICBC on 29 April said it will acquire a 76% stake in Tekstilbank, as the Turkish lender is known, from its parent for $316m (£188m, €228m).
The Chinese lender also said its net income for the first-quarter rose 6.6% to 73.3bn yuan ($11.71bn) from 68.7bn yuan a year ago.
The acquisition will extend state-controlled ICBC's reach overseas and encourage China's ambitions for yuan internationalisation, Richard Cao, an analyst at Guotai Junan Securities, told Bloomberg.

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We’re All Conservatives Now

By STANLEY FISH

The New York Times - December 20, 2010

Last week conservative activist David Horowitz, author of the Academic Bill of Rights, e-mailed me to report, in sorrow, that Penn State University had weakened “the only academic freedom provision . . . worthy of the name.” What the university had done was revise an 1987 statement stipulating that “it is not the function of a faculty member . . . to indoctrinate his/her students with ready made conclusions on controversial subjects.” That sentence disappeared, as did a warning against “introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of [the instructor’s] study.” The National Association of Scholars Web site declares that academic freedom at Penn Sate is “ruined.” The left had won again, and the university world remains a bastion of radical political forces.

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