April 18, 2015

"The two Nobel Laureates will appear together at a public event initiated by Tutu to honor the Tibetan leader on his turning 80 this year."

Phayul The Nobel Peace Laureate and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived earlier this morning on a five day visit to Dharamshala, home of the Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the last 55 years. By Phuntsok Yangchen

'The Tibetan leader, accompanied by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, received the Archbishop at the Gaggal Airport. The only other person whom the Tibetan leader personally received at the airport was former Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam.

'Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that he is “so thrilled” to be with his dear friend His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

'Speaking to reporters, Desmond Tutu said he has come to sit together (with the Dalai Lama) and just enjoy the friendship and talk about “joy”. The two champions of peace and non-violence will collaborate on a book on Joy.

'“Often things and people try to keep us apart but the love that we have for each other and the goodness of god’s universe ensures that we will meet,” Tutu told reporters.

'The Dalai Lama has been denied visa to enter South Africa thrice in the last six years, drawing public outcry by South Africans who see it as a betrayal of the commitment to human rights embraced by their government since the end of apartheid 20 years ago.'

"Beijing, like all of the Chinese cities analyzed here, has air pollution that maxes out in the winter..."

Quartz Every year, outdoor air pollution kills more people worldwide than malaria and HIV combined. People in China, particularly in its largest cities, are some of the most affected, since the country’s rapid economic growth has come at the cost of air quality. by David C. Roberts (& David Yanofsky)

'This issue remained largely unaddressed until the US embassy in Beijing began to tweet out air quality data in 2008, providing a remarkable demonstration of the transformative power of democratizing data. The tweets sparked an energetic environmental movement that forced China’s leaders to acknowledge the massive scale of the problem and begin to take measures to combat it.

'The initiative to publicize air quality data was subsequently expanded to US consulates in several major Chinese cities, providing a wealth of new scientific data.  I recently worked with Federico San Martini and Christa Hasenkopf (both atmospheric scientists at the US State Department who are involved in this program) to analyze this data.

'Comparing concentrations of PM2.5—one of the most dangerous types of air pollution—we found some remarkable patterns in how it changes over the course of the days and seasons across various cities. The highest levels of pollution in Beijing are at midnight, for example—which the recent Chinese documentary Under the Dome blamed on exhaust-spewing heavy trucks making overnight deliveries, but is more likely due to meteorological conditions.'

more plus charts here

"Communists become Japan’s strongest political opposition in the provinces..."

Economist Japanese voters went to the polls last weekend in local elections that set few pulses racing: turnout was the lowest on record and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the dominant partner in Japan’s ruling coalition, cruised to victory predictably, winning over half the nation’s prefectural assembly seats. But another political success did surprise: the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) emerged as the country’s largest opposition at the local level.

'The JCP took 136 seats, knocking the centrist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)—which ran the country just five years ago—into fourth place behind Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner. The result followed notable gains made by the JCP in a general election in December, when they took more than 6m votes, bringing up their share of parliamentary seats from 8 to 21: the party’s best showing in nearly two decades.

'Though the Communist party has never looked remotely close to taking power (its best electoral performance yet was in 1979, when it won 39 seats out of a total of 511), it remains a force in Japanese politics. The party has over 300,000 members, including 10,000 it says it recruited in 2014 (the LDP claims around 790,000). It also publishes a newspaper, Akahata ("Red Flag"), which has a daily circulation of about 1.2m.'

"A moneylender in the slums of Bangkok prepares to hand over the family business while dealing with an unreliable client."

Al Jazeera As the Thai economy grows, so do the aspirations of the people in this increasingly credit-driven nation.

'Yet many of the 100,000 slum dwellers in Bangkok find themselves locked out of conventional financing and reliant on local moneylenders.

'Granny believes she is filling the gap by helping her poor neighbours through her money lending business but thinks nothing of rejecting a loan request from Wat when he fails to keep up with interest payments.

'With her health and energy failing, Granny deftly unleashes her slum lending acumen and frets about how the future of her business will fare in the hands of her spoilt children.'

photos and video here

"I am his hands, he is my eyes," says Haixia. "We are good partners."

BBC Two disabled men, one blind, one a double amputee, have spent over ten years planting trees together in rural China. By Kathleen Hawkins

'Every day Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi walk to work carrying a hammer and a metal rod. Work is an eight-hectare plot of land they lease from the local government.

'The route is a well-trodden one for them now - they've been heading to the same place for 13 years, and always with the aim to plant as many trees as possible in the area, to prevent their village from flooding and improve the environmental surroundings.

'The two went to school together as children in the small village of Yeli in northeastern China. Wenqi says they have always been like brothers, there is only a year between them, and they are very close.

'To get to their plot, Wenqi, a double arm amputee, leads the way through a forest, guiding Haixia, his blind friend, who holds his empty jacket sleeve. When they reach the river, he gets on Wenqi's back in order to cross the fast-moving water without falling.'

more here plus photos

"Ms Gao’s actions did not constitute a crime and the Beijing court’s guilty verdict is a perversion of the law."

From Siweiluozi's Blog:
"The following is a translation of a commentary produced by Shanghai-based lawyer Zhang Xuezhong in response to yesterday's conviction of the 71-year-old senior journalist, Gao Yu."

 1. The documents of a political party should not be considered state secrets. A party member has no legal obligation to safeguard secrets (only an organizational obligation), let alone a citizen who is not a member of the political party.

'Treating political party documents as state secrets under state law is obviously a mistake based on the failure to separate between party and state or on the substitution of the party for the state. Furthermore, the ruling political party in a state ought to, as much as possible, make public its political program, policy positions, and governing principles so that they may by subjected to criticism and oversight by the full citizenry, who are the source of the state’s sovereignty. If the ruling party treats these things as secrets, it will lead people to have doubts that the interests of the party and state might be opposed to each other.

'Even if a political party treats some of its documents as secrets, only party members should be expected to bear the obligation to protect these secrets and this obligation should only be a matter of party discipline. If a party member violates this obligation, at most he or she should receive party disciplinary sanctions, not the sanction of state law. Citizens who are not members of the party should not be under any obligation to protect political party documents that have been designated secret.'

2. The document in this case also does not fall under the category of “state secret” as defined in the Law on the Guarding of State Secrets.

'According to Article 2 and Article 8(3) of the Law on the Guarding of State Secrets, secrets of political parties may be classified as state secrets if they have “vital bearing on state security and national interests and, as specified by legal procedure, are entrusted to a limited number of people for a given period of time.”

'In light of the analysis in point 1 above, these provisions of the Law on the Guarding of State Secrets clearly violate the political principle of separation between political parties and the state. But even if one sets aside this point and the text of the provisions literally, the political party document in this case does not constitute a state secret.

'First, as this is a legal provision, the phrase “state security and national interests” must refer to specific and identifable state security and national interests. In other words, it must be the case that any disclosure of the given information would lead to actual, recognizable, and measurable damage to national interests or worsening of state security. Disclosure of information producing some empty or abstract “impact” should absolutely not be treated as damage to national interests or state security as these ideas are specified under law. Otherwise, the result would be for the scope of state secrets to become boundless, and any citizen could potentially be punished unreasonably.

'Second, the state secrets in these provisions must be “specified by legal procedure [and] entrusted to a limited number of people for a given period of time.” Here, “legal procedure” must involve a designated state organ carrying out a process of “specification” in accordance with national law. No political party or any of its institutions has the power to act on its own to specify party documents as state secrets.'