Monday, April 30, 2012

Scientists Confirm Existence of Excited Neutral Xi-b Baryon

The CERN physics research center said Friday that the particle was discovered at the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the Large Hadron Collider's two main general-purpose detectors, in collaboration with the University of Zurich.

Joe Incandela, the physicist in charge of the experiment involved with the discovery, told The Associated Press that the particle was predicted long ago, but finding it was "really kind of a classic tour de force of experimental work."

The particle, known as an excited neutral Xi-b baryon, could not be detected directly because it was too unstable. Instead, its existence was inferred by the pattern of its decay into other subatomic particles.

The Xi-b particle, like other baryons such as protons and neutrons, is made up of three quarks. Protons and neutrons are combinations of "up" and "down" quarks (two up and one down for protons, two down and one up for neutrons). In contrast, the newly detected Xi-b particles consist of an up, strange and bottom quark. The particles are electrically neutral, with a spin of 3/2 and a mass comparable to that of a lithium atom, University of Zurich researchers said.

Xi-B baryons have been previously detected in their ground states, but the particles created in the LHC's proton-on-proton collisions are the first to be observed in their excited states. They're also the first newly discovered particles to be reported by the Compact Muon Solenoid collaboration, which takes in thousands of researchers.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chinese/Philippine Standoff Escalates

It had appeared last week that the standoff between China and the Philippines had mostly resolved itself, with the parties seemingly agreeing to mediation. Not going to happen. China has rejected international mediation, and both sides are now lining up ships again.
Hostilities between China and Philippines escalated on Sunday as both sides lined up their naval ships for a second time in as many weeks, in a stand-off over a disputed island in the South China Sea.

China defended its action of sending its maritime vessel to the Huangyan Island, which the Philippines calls Scarborough Shoal as Manila too reportedly lined up two of its naval ships.

Philippines has already approached the International Court of Justice in Hague over the dispute.

China has rejected the move saying that it is against any international arbitration. Earlier in the day, Philippines President Benigno Aquino dismissed as rhetoric the recent warnings by Chinese officials of decisive action against the Philippines to reinforce Beijing's claim over the island.

"We don't think that at this stage they (China) will engage in any military activities," Aquino told reporters.

"And we... Have been geared towards de-escalating the situation."

HD 10180 May Have 9 Planets

A star already known to host five alien planets may actually be home to a whopping nine full-fledged worlds - a planetary arrangement that, if confirmed, would outnumber our own solar system and set a new record for the most populated system of extrasolar planets yet found.

The sun-like star, called HD 10180, is located approximately 127 light-years away from Earth. In a previous study that was published in August 2010, astronomers identified five confirmed alien worlds and two planetary candidates.

Now a new study confirms both previous candidates in the HD 10180 system, and also suggests that two more planets could be orbiting the star. This could bring the tally up to nine planets, said lead author Mikko Tuomi, an astronomer at the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. Our solar system, by comparison, has eight official planets (with Mercury closest to the sun and Neptune at the farthest end). Pluto and several other smaller objects are considered dwarf planets, not full-blown worlds.

"The data indicates that there are not only seven but likely as many as nine planets in the system," Tuomi told in an email interview. "The two new planets appear to have orbital periods of roughly 10 and 68 days and masses of 1.9 and 5.1 times that of Earth, which enables the classification of them as hot super-Earths, i.e. planets with likely scorchingly hot rocky surfaces."

Another Red-Light Camera Scam

An industrious town in New Mexico is upping the ante against traffic violators, threatening to shut off the utilities of those who don't pay their fines.

Las Cruces' unpopular decision came after they installed cameras at intersections and watched as $2 million dollars in fines just drove off into the distance.

'Over time we were looking at various options, various ways to recoup that money,' Udell Vigil, the communications director for the City of Las Cruces, told

* * *

The problem is that the city's hands are tied - they can't go through the courts to get their cash, Mr Vigil said.

'We can’t go through the courts; it’s not that type of citation,' Mr Vigil said. 'We don’t have legal enforcement authority.'

So they found a loophole.

Section 28-10 of the Las Cruces Municipal code says that the city can 'cease to furnish' utilities like water, gas and sewage to any person that owes a debt to the city, no matter how small the amount.

U.S. Special Forces Hunt Joseph Kony in Uganda

Three international armies have zeroed in on Joseph Kony, one of the world's most wanted warlords, to a remote African village.

Obo was the first place in the Central African Republic that Kony's Lord's Resistance Army attacked in 2008.

Today, it is one of four forward operating locations where U.S. special forces have paired up with local troops and Ugandan soldiers to seek out Kony, who is believed likely to be hiding out in the rugged terrain northwest of the town.

For seven years he has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity after his forces cut a wide and bloody swath across several central African nations with rapes, abductions and killings.

Part of the LRA's success in eluding government forces has been its ability to slip back and forth over the porous borders of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo.

But since late last year, U.S. forces have been providing intelligence, looking at patterns of movement, and setting up better communications to link the countries' forces together so that they can better track the guerrilla force.

Sent by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, the 100 U.S. soldiers are split up about 15 to 30 per base, bringing in American technology and experience to assist local forces.

Exact details on specific improvements that the American forces have brought to the table, however, are classified, to avoid giving Kony the ability to take countermeasures.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"The President Has a List"

If you haven't already, you should read this op-ed from the Wall Street Journal about Obama singling out particular donors to Romney's campaign, and maligning them. Some highlights:
Richard Nixon's "enemies list" appalled the country for the simple reason that presidents hold a unique trust. Unlike senators or congressmen, presidents alone represent all Americans. Their powers—to jail, to fine, to bankrupt—are also so vast as to require restraint. Any president who targets a private citizen for his politics is de facto engaged in government intimidation and threats. This is why presidents since Nixon have carefully avoided the practice.

Save Mr. Obama, who acknowledges no rules. This past week, one of his campaign websites posted an item entitled "Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney's donors." In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having "less-than-reputable records," the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that "quite a few" have also been "on the wrong side of the law" and profiting at "the expense of so many Americans."

These are people like Paul Schorr and Sam and Jeffrey Fox, investors who the site outed for the crime of having "outsourced" jobs. T. Martin Fiorentino is scored for his work for a firm that forecloses on homes. Louis Bacon (a hedge-fund manager), Kent Burton (a "lobbyist") and Thomas O'Malley (an energy CEO) stand accused of profiting from oil. Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of a home-products firm, is slimed as a "bitter foe of the gay rights movement."

These are wealthy individuals, to be sure, but private citizens nonetheless. Not one holds elected office. Not one is a criminal. Not one has the barest fraction of the position or the power of the U.S. leader who is publicly assaulting them. 
* * *

The real crime of the men, as the website tacitly acknowledges, is that they have given money to Mr. Romney. This fundraiser of a president has shown an acute appreciation for the power of money to win elections, and a cutthroat approach to intimidating those who might give to his opponents.

He's targeted insurers, oil firms and Wall Street—letting it be known that those who oppose his policies might face political or legislative retribution. He lectured the Supreme Court for giving companies more free speech and (falsely) accused the Chamber of Commerce of using foreign money to bankroll U.S. elections. The White House even ginned up an executive order (yet to be released) to require companies to list political donations as a condition of bidding for government contracts. Companies could bid but lose out for donating to Republicans. Or they could quit donating to the GOP—Mr. Obama's real aim.

Voyager 1 Close to the Edge of the Solar System

According to recent research published in Geophysical Letters, the probe is now 111 astronomical units from the sun - meaning it is 111 times further from the sun than it is from the Earth. [sic -- it actually means that it is 111 times further from the sun than is the Earth].

Voyager 1 has been exploring the fringes of the solar system since 2004 - and it is now close to the very edge of our solar system, affording the first-ever 'alien's eye' view of our planet.

The probe is still detecting 'spikes' in the intensity of cosmic ray electrons - which lead scientists to think it's still within the 'heliosheath', the very outer edge of our solar system.

Voyager 1 still has a little way to go before it completely exits the solar system and becomes the first manmade probe to cross into interstellar space, or the vast space between stars.

The spacecraft has enough battery power to last until 2020, but scientists think it will reach interstellar space before that - in a matter of several months to years.

Chief scientist Ed Stone of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the timing is unclear because no spacecraft has ever ventured this far.
Interesting graphics at the link.

Afghanistan Turning into a Narco-state?

Afghanistan produces 90% of the opium in the world. Opium production represents 10% of Afghanistan's GDP, and the Economist reports that Afghanistan is set to have a bumper opium crop this year.
... The annual poppy harvest begins soon, and despite all the efforts to reduce cultivation, it looks likely to rise yet again. The harvest in nine of the growing provinces will probably increase and it is expected to remain steady in about in another eight. In only one of Afghanistan’s provinces does it looks set to fall, according to the forecast.

Cultivation is still lower than when it was at its peak, in 2007, but the nationwide trend now looks to be moving in the wrong direction. This year’s bumper crop means that Afghanistan’s heroin will continue to feed an exploding population of addicts within the country’s own borders as well as in neighbouring Russia and Iran. Taliban coffers will swell with the proceeds and everywhere the drug money will poison attempts to build an Afghan state. Helmand, which alone grew nearly half of Afghanistan’s opium in 2011 and is the focus of the most intensive counter-narcotics push, is one of those provinces where production is unlikely to change.

Sky-high opium prices are being blamed for the recent backsliding. Other factors, including such familiar conditions as poverty, insecurity, corruption and government complicity, all continue to play their bleak roles.
Notwithstanding that Islam supposedly prohibits growing narcotics, the Taliban are behind much of the growth in opium production, using it as a source for funding their war. (See also this article from the Guardian). As this article notes:
Helmand is the world’s largest opium-producing region, responsible for 75 per cent of the world’s opium. Thus the Taliban fights here to protect its lucrative crop: this is an insurgency of politics, guns, drugs and power, not one of ideology.

However, this MSNBC report paints a more positive picture:
The alleged income from smuggling opium and donations from private sources in the Gulf no longer appears to be enough to finance the insurgency.

Internationally sponsored, poppy-eradication programs operating throughout the country seem to have had an effect, even if a recent survey by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime showed that the success rate of such programs had decreased and predicted more farmers might soon return to the lucrative business.
I think that there is a real risk that if the Taliban continue to rely on drug revenue, opium production and trafficking will become the raison d'etre for the Taliban's existence, similar to what happened to FARC in Columbia. According to this article from the Council on Foreign Relations:
Experts estimate that FARC takes in between $500 million and $600 million annually from the illegal drug trade. The FARC also profits from kidnappings, extortion schemes, and an unofficial "tax" it levies in the countryside for "protection" and social services. About sixty-five of the FARC's 110 operational units are involved in some aspect of the drug trade, according to a 2005 International Crisis Group report, but evidence from that period indicates they primarily managed local production. A 2008 International Crisis Group report notes that the nature of the FARC's drug involvement varies from region to region, and that the group's control of population and territory in rural areas "has allowed it to dictate terms for coca growth, harvest, and processing." The U.S. government alleges the FARC's role in the drug trade is more significant. According to a 2006 U.S. Department of Justice indictment, the FARC supplies more than 50 percent of the world's cocaine. A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says the FARC accounts for 60 percent of the total cocaine exported from Colombia to the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department has frozen the assets of several individuals it asserts are significant foreign narcotics traffickers within the FARC. However, other evidence suggests the FARC's involvement with the drug trade remains local. According to the 2007 UN World Drug report, the bulk of drug trafficking in Colombia is controlled by professional drug smuggling groups, while the FARC is focused on the cultivation and processing of coca (PDF).
There have been suggestions that the U.S. buy up the opium crops--essentially transform it into a legitimate crop. The problem is that subsidizing a crop guarantees that it will be produced. And while purchasing the crops theoretically would produce a price ceiling (i.e., establish the market price), the U.S. is not going to turn around and release the opium into the illicit drug market. The demand for heroin would guarantee a premium price for those farmers willing to grow the crops and illegally sell them to drug traffickers, but make it harder to distinguish the legitimate farmers from those selling illegal products. (In reality, farmers would probably do both--sell some of their production to the government, and the remainder would go to traffickers).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

More on Tensions in the South China Sea

The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam all claim ownership of some islands [in the South China Sea]. China's official map stakes a claim to almost all the 1.2 million-square-mile sea, including territory hundreds of miles from its mainland shore.

* * *

A clash between East and West is perhaps unavoidable, given that the United States says it will protect freedom of navigation and commerce for all Asian nations in what is one of the world's busiest shipping routes, some experts say.

"China has boxed itself in," says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, North East Asia project director for the International Crisis Group.

She says China has so convinced its public of their country's claims that significant policy shifts will be tough. In "Stirring up the South China Sea," a report issued this week, the group notes a dramatic increase in hostile incidents between maritime forces in recent years.

Beijing moderated its stance in 2011 after tensions led its neighbors to seek closer military ties with the U.S. But "the conflicting mandates and lack of coordination" among Chinese government agencies running maritime policy continue to stoke tensions, the report says.
* * *
Some foreign policy experts say only a strengthened U.S. naval presence will prevent China from taking over.

The South China Sea will be "the strategic bellwether for determining the future of U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific region," wrote Patrick Cronin and Robert Kaplan in a report by the Center for a New American Security.
And while the U.S. is conducting joint military exercises with the Philippines and South Korea, the article reports that China is conducting joint exercises with Russia in the Yellow Sea.

Also, the Chinese military has announced that it is ready to protect Chinese interests in the South China Sea:
The armed forces have vowed to "fulfill their duty" to safeguard China's territory in the South China Sea, a Defense Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

"China's military forces will collaborate closely with related governing bodies, including fishery administration and maritime law enforcement, to jointly ensure the country's maritime rights and interests," Geng Yansheng said in Beijing.

This was the first official remark from the armed forces following a standoff with a Philippine warship in waters off China's Huangyan Island on April 10.

Analysts said the comments were also in response to growing domestic demand to ensure sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Earlier, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said that any military action will be based on the needs of diplomacy.

Media reports said that China has sent a nuclear-powered submarine to the South China Sea, but the spokesman did not confirm or deny the accuracy of the reports.
Notably, both of the stories cited above also mention possible intentions by China to colonize various islands in the area in order to strengthen its territorial claims.

Unlike the current U.S. administration, China understands the importance of energy to its continued economic growth and security. However, that may be a large part of what is underlying the current dispute over the South China Sea according to this Chicago Tribune article:

A Philippine exploration firm has found more-than-expected natural gas in a disputed area of the South China Sea, a discovery likely to inflame territorial tensions with China.

Philex Petroleum Corp said in a disclosure to the stock exchange on Tuesday that its unit, Forum Energy Plc, "is expected to show an improvement in the resources previously known" in the Sampaguita gas discovery in the Reed Bank.

The area is claimed by both nations and last year Chinese navy vessels tried to ram one of Forum Energy's survey ships there, almost halting its research work.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea, and these nations are worried about what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the sea's islands, reefs and shoals.

The territorial disputes are pushing the Philippines to seek closer cooperation with the United States, which has drawn Chinese condemnation.

A 2006 study quoted by Forum Energy said the Sampaguita field had a potential of up to 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or more than five times initial estimates.

Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said the findings could support plans to build a multi-million dollar pipeline from the area to Manila.

Autistic Boy's Father Wonders Why Teacher Was Not Fired

Stuart Chaifetz, 44, put a wire on his son Akian, 10, and recorded staff in his class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Cherry Hill calling the child "a bastard," talking about vomiting that morning due to a hangover, and apparently teasing the child to the point where he had a "half-hour meltdown."

The school superintendent said Tuesday that staff who were heard acting inappropriately were no longer working in the district. At least one classroom aide reportedly lost her job.

But Chaifetz said the teacher, Kelly Altenburg, had been moved to another school. The district has refused to comment beyond the superintendent's statement.

"When did teachers become more important than children?" Chaifetz said.
According to the National Education Association (NEA) website, the NEA was formed in 1857.

The article further notes:
However, Steve Wollmer, communications director for the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, told that Altenburg "basically was exonerated" and said Chaifetz "doesn't perhaps understand exactly what happened there."

EPA Official Stated in 2010 that EPA Would Crucify Some Oil Companies...

... as an example to keep the others in line.

Fox News Gives a Brief Overview of the Chinese-Philippines Standoff

(Story here).

Boy Kicked Off Girls Field Hockey Team...

... for being too good. (Story here). The problem is that there are no boys field hockey teams for him to join. Title IX of the Civil Rights Act requires educational institutions to provide equal opportunities for both males and females. The original idea was that if someone was offered for males, the same program should be made available to females. In the past, this law has been used to devastate boys' and men's sports in high school and college because often, the solution to provide equal treatment was simply to disband a program for males. So, rather than expanding the choice for females, it has primarily been used as  a stick to beat down men. In this case, the result, if they pursue a lawsuit, may be the opposite--having to shut down the girls' program.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

China Daily Warns of Small-Scale War With the Philippines

One of China’s most popular newspapers has warned of a potential “small-scale war” between Beijing and Manila as a result of their standoff at Panatag Shoal, or Scarborough Shoal as the area is known internationally.

The Global Times, in an editorial published in its Chinese and English editions, said over the weekend that “China should be prepared to engage in a small-scale war at sea with the Philippines.”

“Once the war erupts, China must take resolute action to deliver a clear message to the outside world that it does not want a war, but definitely has no fear of it,” the tabloid said.

Malacañang and Philippine military officials were unfazed by the toughly worded editorial.
(Full story here). The same story indicates that China is maintaining several vessels in the area.
In Camp Aquino in Tarlac City, the head of the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) accused China of lying when it claimed it had withdrawn most of its vessels at Panatag Shoal.

“We are telling them they’re not telling the truth,” Nolcom commander Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara told visiting defense reporters.

In a press briefing, Alcantara said at least seven Chinese vessels remained in the vicinity of Panatag, including two small fishing boats anchored on the lagoon and three other fishing vessels off a sandbar.

Alcantara said two Chinese maritime ships—the gunboat FLEC 310 and the surveillance ship CMS 71—had been sighted in the Panatag waters as of 8 p.m. Monday.

Two more surveillance ships, the CMS 84 and 75, are believed to be replenishing provisions and refueling somewhere in the Chinese mainland, he added.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Philippine military forces continue their annual "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises.
Nearly 7,000 American and Philippine troops were launched from U.S. and Philippine ships in a simulated amphibious assault to recapture an island supposedly taken by militants.

Four days ago, commando teams rappelled down from U.S. helicopters and landed from rubber boats in a mock assault to retake an oil rig in northern Palawan, 18 km (11 miles) off the town of El Nido on the South China Sea.

The annual war games come under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), one of the web of security alliances the United States built in the Asia and Pacific region during the Cold War.

The drills are a rehearsal of a mutual defence plan by the two allies to repel any aggression in the Philippines.
Patrick Cronin argues in this op-ed in the New York Times that China is not looking for a military confrontation, however, but looking to expand its influence in the region. He writes:
The latest crisis arose after the pocket-size Philippine Navy, with an old United States Coast Guard cutter as its new flagship, tried to apprehend Chinese fishermen it claimed were operating illegally near the Scarborough Shoal. China then sent two surveillance vessels — part of a recent effort to protect its claims in the East and South China Seas — to block the Philippine ship.

The message was stark: escalate and risk a violent run-in with the Chinese Navy, or stand down and negotiate with Beijing from a position of weakness.

Manila wisely chose the latter, first substituting a civilian vessel for its combat vessel, and then containing the dispute through diplomatic channels. But China was also sending a flare to Washington, to the effect that American efforts to strengthen the military capacity of its regional allies would be checked.

It’s easy to see the standoff as an act of quasi-aggression, but it’s not. Because China is looking for influence rather than spoiling for a fight, it will seek a minimal show of force, as it did in the Scarborough incident by sending surveillance vessels instead of warships. Drawing attention to its rapid military modernization or its intensifying nationalist sentiment, after all, could undermine China’s core interests.

The key take-away from the recent showdown is that the United States needs to remain coolheaded. Not only are such skirmishes at sea inevitable, but they are also of minor consequence — assuming they are managed shrewdly.

Given our allies’ overlapping interests in the South China Sea, we are bound to feel pressure to act aggressively against what appears to be Chinese expansionism. But as wiser heads in the United States have understood for decades, China is not truly expansionist. Its mercantilist international policies have material rather than imperial ambitions. China is testing the limits, not necessarily trying to pick a fight.
Like almost every other country in the world, the politics of China is not monolithic. There are multiple coalitions and forces at work. So, Mr. Cronin's views are a little naive if he intends to portray China as having a unified foreign policy. Hardliners in China may well want to push for a small military action to garner respect in the region, or using this incident to test the United States' resolve with respect to allies in the region.

"Snowballs" Punch Through Saturn's Rings

The objects are actually snowballs created by some of Saturn’s 60 moons, like Prometheus.

They have been snapped punching through Saturn’s F ring, the outermost of the planet's main rings, with a radius of about 87,000 miles. 
* * *

Scientists have known that relatively large objects like Prometheus (as long as 92 miles, or 148 kilometres, across) can create channels, ripples and snowballs in the F ring.

But scientists didn't know what happened to these snowballs after they were created, Murray said.

Some were surely broken up by collisions or tidal forces in their orbit around Saturn, but now scientists have evidence that some of the smaller ones survive, and their differing orbits mean they go on to strike through the F ring on their own.

These small objects appear to collide with the F ring at gentle speeds – something on the order of about 4mph (two metres per second).

The collisions drag glittering ice particles out of the F ring with them, leaving a trail typically 20 to 110 miles (40 to 180 kilometres) long.

Murray's group happened to see a tiny trail in an image from January 30, 2009 and tracked it over eight hours.

The long footage confirmed the small object originated in the F ring, so they went back through the Cassini image catalogue to see if the phenomenon was frequent.‘The F ring has a circumference of 550,000 miles (881,000 kilometres), and these mini-jets are so tiny they took quite a bit of time and serendipity to find,’ said Nick Attree, a Cassini imaging associate at Queen Mary. ‘We combed through 20,000 images and were delighted to find 500 examples of these rogues during just the seven years Cassini has been at Saturn.’

Asteroid Mining

Within five to 10 years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services.

It plans to tap some of the thousands of asteroids that pass relatively close to Earth and extract their raw materials.

A 98-foot asteroid can hold as much as $50 billion worth of platinum (£31 billion) at today's prices, said a company spokesperson.

Not all missions would return precious metals and minerals to Earth. In addition to mining for platinum and other precious metals, the company plans to tap asteroids' water to supply orbiting fuel depots, which could be used by NASA and others for robotic and human space missions.

'We have a long view. We're not expecting this company to be an overnight financial home run. This is going to take time,' Anderson said in an interview with Reuters.

The real payoff, which is decades away, will come from mining asteroids for platinum group metals and rare minerals.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Bo Xilai Crises -- An Interview with Cheng Li

Cheng Li is an expert on China with the Brooking's Institute, so the interview gives some insight on the issue that seems to have been missing in the main-stream media. For instance, some background on Bo Xilai:
Bo Xilai’s story is certainly linked to China’s present-day factional politics, which I characterize as “one party, two coalitions.” One coalition is led by former president Jiang Zemin’s protégés. While the core of this coalition used to be the so-called Shanghai Gang, “princelings” (leaders who come from high-ranking family backgrounds) have become more central since the fall of Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu on corruption charges in 2006. Bo Xilai is a princeling, as his father Bo Yibo was a revolutionary veteran who served as vice premier. The other coalition primarily consists of former officials from the Chinese Communist Youth League and is led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. These two coalitions fight with each other over power, influence, and policy initiatives. Bo Xilai’s career advancement can certainly be attributed to his princeling background and his patron-client ties with Jiang Zemin.

Bo’s downfall is also related to his own egotistical personality and notorious ambition. While his ambitions were most recently focused on achieving a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, it would have not stopped there. In the months preceding the crisis, members of Bo’s staff spread the rumor that he could become China’s next premier. In addition, Su Wei, a scholar close to Bo at the Chongqing Party School, compared Bo Xilai and Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan to former leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in comments circulated in both the Chongqing and national media.

The Bo episode is also related to ideological conflict, as he was associated with China’s “new left” thinking—especially through his Mao-style campaigns, such as the “smash the black” anti–organized crime campaign—and advocated an ultra-egalitarian and ultra-nationalist development model for China, known as the “Chongqing model.”

But this episode is really more than the sum of these factors. Most importantly, it involves Wang Lijun’s attempted defection to the United States and the charges against Bo’s wife related to the murder or assassination of British citizen Neil Heywood. The Chinese public has been shocked by both incidents, since this is a very unusual set of events in CCP history. How is it possible that national hero Wang Lijun and one of China’s top leaders are capable of such actions? When these kinds of charges are involved, all Chinese leaders—regardless of which faction they belong to—will not support Bo Xilai any longer, because the current crisis poses a challenge to the legitimacy of the CCP itself. The stakes are very high, and the challenge facing the CCP leadership is intimidating.
Li dismisses theories that the scandal was engineered by other Chinese leaders,Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. He also believes that the Chinese leadership is more interested in presenting a united political front publicly, rather than pursuing a witch-hunt against other senior officials.

The party leadership will be extremely cautious and not expand the scope of the Bo Xilai case to other leaders. Purges will be relatively limited. The fact that certain leaders closely affiliated with Bo, such as Huang Qifan, are still free implies that the top leadership does not intend to punish too many people. The fact that the country is on the eve of the 18th Party Congress, with so many destabilizing factors, will also lead the leadership to limit the scope of targeted officials.

Therefore, though the Bo case is a victory for Hu and Wen, this victory will not necessarily translate into more seats for their coalition on the Politburo Standing Committee. To a certain extent, this explains why Guangdong’s liberal party chief Wang Yang has been reluctant to claim victory since there still could be a backlash against him. The makeup of the future Politburo Standing Committee will largely be determined through compromises between the two coalitions. The balance of power within this system will not be easily changed. If the princeling faction collapsed, this would constitute an unimaginable revolution with implications for Chinese politics and social instability ten times greater than the Bo scandal. Thus, at the moment, there is a tremendous incentive for the party’s top leadership to preserve the current structure of “one party, two coalitions,” and show unity and solidarity. Evidence of the Chinese leadership’s unity on this matter can be found in the man who replaced Bo as party chief of Chongqing, Zhang Dejiang, a protégé of Jiang Zemin and part of the same princeling coalition as Bo. This appointment means that a deal has been made and the top leadership of the party is united.
Read the whole thing. (H/t Instapundit).

China De-escalating Its Standoff with the Philippines?

The LA Times reports that China, today, has withdrawn two of its warships from the disputed Scarborough Shoals. However, this article from the Asia Times contends that China has actually increased its naval presence, stating:
China has beefed up its naval might around the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, threatening a clash as the United States and Philippines hold joint military exercises in the vicinity of the potentially energy rich disputed maritime territory.

In a show of force, a state-of-the-art Chinese vessel, the Yuzheng 310, is now on patrol near the Scarborough Shoal, raising the strategic ante as its maritime standoff with the Philippines heads into a second week. Certain news reports have suggested as many as five other Chinese patrol vessels are now in the area.
The LA Times article cited above notes:
China has pressed its claims to South China Sea outcroppings more aggressively after declaring the sea a "core national interest" two years ago.

Vietnam has sparred with China over another set of islands, last year accusing a Chinese boat of cutting the cables to a ship owned by its national oil and gas company. Brunei and Malaysia have also laid claims to the waters, which are lucrative fishing grounds and believed to cover oil and natural gas reserves.

Despite China having agreed to a U.N. convention on maritime zones that limited its reach at sea, official maps of China show almost all of the South China Sea as being in its territory, alarming neighboring countries. Even some of its own agencies don't seem to respect the same boundaries.

“The Sea will remain volatile unless China’s internal coordination problems and the legal confusion surrounding its maritime territorial claims are addressed,” said Robert Templer, Asia Program director for the International Crisis Group, which released a report Monday on the disputed waters.
Although I missed this earlier, China warned the U.S. on Saturday about escalating the situation by conducting previously planned military exercises with the Philippines.
China's military warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have raised risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea in the toughest high-level warning yet after weeks of tensions.

China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with thePhilippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing andManila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.
So, in answer to the question posed in the title, I would have to say no, but that instead China seems to be pushing the issue more forcefully toward a military confrontation.

Iran Approaches China Over Drone Technology

Fox News is reporting that Iran has approached China about turning over the spy drone they captured.
While the Iranians claim they've reverse-engineered the American drone that went down last year inside its borders, Fox News has learned that Tehran is making overtures to the Chinese to potentially give them access to the sensitive drone technology.

The drone's stealth coating, which resists detection by radar, is of particular interest to the Chinese, who also sought access to a stealth U.S. helicopter tail from Pakistan after the Usama bin Laden raid.

A former intelligence official earlier told Fox News it's unlikely the Iranians could figure out how to recreate the drone, despite their claims over the weekend -- and that the pressing concern would be they would try to use the technology to bargain with the Chinese or the Russians.

While China does not necessarily have the technology to help significantly advance Iran's nuclear program in exchange for access to drone parts, China could offer Iran an IOU of sorts -- for a favor like a veto at the U.N. Security Council, the former official said.

The Russians also would be interested in any U.S. intelligence collection capability, and could offer Iran ballistics technology useful for a nuclear delivery system.

Global Warming Alert! -- James Lovelock Admits He Was Mistaken

At least he is honest enough to admit it:
Environmental scientist James Lovelock, renowned for his terrifying predictions of climate change's deadly impact on the planet, has gone back on his previous claims, admitting they were 'alarmist'.

The 92-year-old Briton, who also developed the Gaia theory of the Earth as a single organism, has said climate change is still happening - just not as quickly as he once warned.

He added that other environmental commentators, such as former vice president Al Gore, are also guilty of exaggerating their arguments.

The admission comes as a devastating blow to proponents of climate change who regard Lovelock as a powerful figurehead.

Five years ago, he had claimed: 'Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.'

But in an interview with, he admitted: 'I made a mistake.'

He said: 'The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing,' he told 'We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear cut, but it hasn’t happened.

'The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world.

'[The temperature] has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising - carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that.'

Study Fails to Turn Up Evidence of Dark Matter

The most accurate study so far of the motions of stars in the Milky Way has found no evidence for dark matter in a large volume around the Sun.

A team using the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, along with other telescopes, has mapped the motions of more than 400 stars up to 13,000 light-years from the Sun.

From this new data they have calculated the mass of material in the vicinity of the Sun, in a volume four times larger than ever considered before.

‘The amount of mass that we derive matches very well with what we see -- stars, dust and gas -- in the region around the Sun,’ says team leader Christian Moni Bidin, of the Universidad de Concepcion, Chile.

‘But this leaves no room for the extra material -- dark matter -- that we were expecting. Our calculations show that it should have shown up very clearly in our measurements. But it was just not there!’ 
* * *

Dark matter is a mysterious substance that cannot be seen, but shows itself by its gravitational attraction for the material around it.

This extra ingredient in the cosmos was originally suggested to explain why the outer parts of galaxies, including our own Milky Way, rotated so quickly, but dark matter now also forms an essential component of theories of how galaxies formed and evolved.

Today it is widely accepted that this dark component constitutes about the 80% of the mass in the universe, despite the fact that it has resisted all attempts to clarify its nature, which remains obscure. All attempts so far to detect dark matter in laboratories on Earth have failed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

McCain Didn't Pursue Voter Fraud Charges for Fear of Mobs

There is an interesting story about the 2008 election coming out of Wikileaks. Memos from Stratfor released by Wikileaks say that widespread voter fraud occurred in Ohio and that “black Dems were caught stuffing the ballot boxes in Philly.” The McCain campaign knew about the fraud but feared taking action because of the “possibility of domestic violence” if they challenged the results in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The memos say campaign staff urged candidate John McCain to act in court:

“Staff felt they could get a federal injunction to stop the process.”

One of the Wikileaked memos says: “Sen. McCain chose not to fight.” The reason?

The memo states:

“McCain felt the crowds assembled in support of Obama and such would be detrimental to our country and it would do our nation no good for this to drag out like last go around, coupled with the possibility of domestic violence.”
The article cited above is at the Business Insider, and further notes Jesse Jackson was paid by the DNC to keep quiet about Israel, and that the Obama campaign received contributions from Russia.

The voter fraud is going to be 10 times worse this time. What then? And why was none of this reported by the media?

Meteor Explodes Over the Sierra Nevadas?

Astronomers say a loud explosion heard across a large swath of Nevada and California on Sunday morning was likely caused by a meteor.

The sound of the explosion around 8 a.m. prompted a flood of calls to law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Sierra Nevada in the two states.

The explosion rattled windows and shook houses from Reno to Winnemucca in Nevada, and from the Sacramento to Bakersfield areas in California.

Some people in the two states reported seeing a fireball streak across the sky at the same time.

Dan Ruby of the Fleischmann Planetarium at the University of Nevada, Reno, says the reports indicate the meteor broke up above Earth somewhere over the Sierra southwest of Reno.
Seeing a fireball (rather than the usual streak of light) is a very memorable experience.

FBI Stops Sharing Terrorist Information with States

I caught this the other day (h/t Instapundit):
Without making a public or private announcement, the FBI has ended critical intelligence sharing with all 77 law enforcement fusion centers nationwide. This policy was implemented less than two days after a top FBI official told Congress about the FBI’s extensive efforts to share intelligence with state and local partners.

On Monday, a state fusion center official told PJ Media:
The FBI has effectively put us out of business. We are right back to September 10.
Two other fusion center officials in other states confirmed the FBI’s new policy to PJ Media.

On March 1, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) stopped sharing watch encounter reports with the fusion centers. The Watch Encounter reports document incidents of individuals on terror watch lists having encounters with state or local law enforcement.

Until now, the Watch Encounter reports were forwarded to the fusion center responsible for the area where the encounter occurred. Since the TSC doesn’t share the terror watch lists with the fusion centers, the Watch Encounter reports were the only means that state officials had of knowing that someone on a terror watch list had either traveled to or lived in their area.
The FBI claims this isn't so:
The FBI has responded to our exclusive reporting this morning that they had cut off intelligence sharing of Terrorist Screening Center watch encounter reports to fusion centers nationwide. According to several fusion center officials interviewed today, the FBI is now saying that they will resume sending TSC watch encounter reports beginning next Monday. However, these reports will no longer contain Personal Information Intelligence (PII) related to the subject on the terror watch list.

As one official said, “This is like promising us free bags of M&Ms, but without the M&Ms. There is practically nothing we can do with these reports without PII, which seems to be the FBI’s intent. They want to keep up the appearance of intel sharing without actually sharing intel.”
(Full story here).

The Office of Financial Research

It is the most powerful federal agency you’ve never heard of -- and lawmakers from both parties on Thursday vowed to keep abreast of its astonishing growth and rein it in, if necessary.

The Office of Financial Research, or OFR, was created by the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul that President Obama signed into law in July 2010. Technically housed under the Treasury Department, the agency has until now received its funding not from the Congress, but directly from the Federal Reserve.

Starting in July, the OFR Fiscal Year 2013 budget, estimated at $158 million, will be funded entirely through assessments -- also known as taxes -- on bank-holding firms with consolidated assets worth at least $50 billion.

But as became clear at Thursday’s hearing by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, a close reading of the law the president signed provides no limit on the growth of OFR’s budget, nor on the taxes the agency can impose on big banks to fund it. 
* * *

The agency’s official mission is to collect financial data and funnel it to another Dodd-Frank creation: the Financial Stability Oversight Council. These agencies were designed with the idea of preventing another systemic shock of Lehman Brothers magnitude.

Toward that end, OFR was invested with virtually unlimited subpoena power. It can compel just about any company in America to turn over to the federal government sensitive internal data, even proprietary information.
“We're only going to be collecting the data that we absolutely need, to fulfill our mission,” testified Michele Shannon, the new agency’s chief operating officer. “We're trying to fill data gaps. We're not going to be collecting for collection's sake. We're going to be making sure that only those people who absolutely need to have access to sensitive data have that access.”

Another of those bills that they had to pass to know what was in it?

There are a lot of potential problems here. First, the hubris at thinking that they can stave off another crises simply if they have enough information. They will never have enough information, although they will certainly try to obtain it.

Second, there has never been a government agency that has shown self restraint. They will do everything they can do under the law, and then push the envelope, then go to get the law expanded further, and so on. And if the need for the agency disappears, they will create new "problems" for the agency to "solve." 
Third, per the first two points, the agency will eventually go back to Congress to complain that it doesn't have the power to actually do anything, so it seek to accrue enforcement powers.
Fourth, other agencies will want to use the data collected, and so will be given access to to it.
Rinse, and repeat.

Friday, April 20, 2012

China Aggravates Standoff with the Philippines...

... by sending a third ship to the area. From Fox News:
The Philippines on Friday accused China of escalating the countries' 10-day standoff in the disputed South China Sea by sending a third patrol vessel to a shoal where both sides claim sovereignty.

The standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, sparked April 10 when the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of poaching in its territory, is being closely watched to see how far Beijing will go in its increasingly assertive stance on territorial claims in the region. The South China Sea is home to a myriad of competing claims, also involving Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The latest Chinese patrol vessel was dispatched after the Philippines refused to withdraw its coast guard ship from Scarborough Shoal, China's state-run Xinhua news agency said.

Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a news conference in Manila that China's move was seen as an escalation of the standoff originally sparked when two Chinese maritime surveillance ships prevented a Philippine warship from arresting several Chinese fishermen. The fishermen slipped away from the shoal, angering Philippine officials.

The Philippines subsequently replaced the warship with a smaller coast guard vessel that was facing off with the two Chinese ships, with each side demanding the other pull out first.

Hernandez said that his government plans to ask China's representatives why they violated an earlier agreement not to aggravate the situation.

Zimmerman Really Was Wounded

Now that they are done lynching him, the mainstream media continues to slowly dribble out facts that support George Zimmerman's account of what happened the night he shot Martin. The latest example? ABC has published a photo showing Zimmerman with the back of his head bloody.

If you look closely, you will see that there is lawn grass in the background of the photo, suggesting that this was taken at the scene of the shooting. The article states:
His surprising testimony came the same day that ABC News exclusively obtained a photograph showing the bloodied back of Zimmerman's head, which was apparently taken three minutes after he shot and killed Martin. The photo could give credence to Zimmerman's claim that Martin had bashed his head against the concrete as Zimmerman fought for his life.

China's Demography Problem

Here is an article that provides a good review and analysis of China's "birth dearth."
Over the past 30 years, China’s total fertility rate—the number of children a woman can expect to have during her lifetime—has fallen from 2.6, well above the rate needed to hold a population steady, to 1.56, well below that rate (see table). Because very low fertility can become self-reinforcing, with children of one-child families wanting only one child themselves, China now probably faces a long period of ultra-low fertility, regardless of what happens to its one-child policy.

. . . In contrast, America’s fertility rate is 2.08 and rising.

The difference between 1.56 and 2.08 does not sound large. But over the long term it has a huge impact on society. Between now and 2050 China’s population will fall slightly, from 1.34 billion in 2010 to just under 1.3 billion in 2050. This assumes that fertility starts to recover. If it stays low, the population will dip below 1 billion by 2060. In contrast, America’s population is set to rise by 30% in the next 40 years. China will hit its peak population in 2026. No one knows when America will hit its population peak.

The differences between the two countries are even more striking if you look at their average ages. In 1980 China’s median (the age at which half the population is younger, half older) was 22. That is characteristic of a young developing country. It is now 34.5, more like a rich country and not very different from America’s, which is 37. But China is ageing at an unprecedented pace. Because fewer children are being born as larger generations of adults are getting older, its median age will rise to 49 by 2050, nearly nine years more than America at that point. Some cities will be older still. The Shanghai Population and Family Planning Committee says that more than a third of the city’s population will be over 60 by 2020.

This trend will have profound financial and social consequences. Most obviously, it means China will have a bulge of pensioners before it has developed the means of looking after them. Unlike the rest of the developed world, China will grow old before it gets rich. Currently, 8.2% of China’s total population is over 65. The equivalent figure in America is 13%. By 2050, China’s share will be 26%, higher than in America.
. . .

The shift spells the end of China as the world’s factory. The apparently endless stream of cheap labour is starting to run dry. Despite pools of underemployed country-dwellers, China already faces shortages of manual workers. As the workforce starts to shrink after 2013, these problems will worsen. 

Report: Chinese Indigenous Weapons Development

PDF here. From the Executive Summary:
China’s process of modernizing its armed forces has involved the development of indigenously designed weapons systems—some of which appeared to undergo a process of development, procurement,
and/or deployment that outpaced the estimates of U.S. and other foreign observers. This paper specifically focuses on four key weapons platforms that have been discussed as “surprise” developments to U.S. analysts:
- Type 039A/B/041 (Yuan‐class) diesel‐electric attack submarine
- SC‐19 anti‐satellite (ASAT) system
- Dongfeng‐21D (DF‐21D/CSS‐5) anti‐ship ballistic missile (ASBM)
- Jian‐20 (J‐20) stealth fighter aircraft

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sudan and South Sudan on the Verge of War

From the National Post, a warning that Muslim Sudan is on the verge of war with Christian South Sudan:
No one is even trying to maintain the pretense of peace in Sudan and South Sudan these days. Sporadic skirmishes and border shootouts are on the verge of becoming all-out war and the threat is resurrecting fears of a Darfur-like disaster for 10s of thousands of refugees.

A day after South Sudan, Africa’s youngest state, became the 188th member of the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday, the Arab League was scrambling to call an emergency meeting into the growing violence between Sudan and South Sudan.

South Sudanese troops continue to occupy the oil town of Heglig, on the disputed border of South Kordofan state, fighting off air raids by Sudanese jets and counter-attacks by the Sudanese army.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, dressed in an army uniform plastered with battle ribbons and medals, travelled to the capital of North Kordofan Thursday and praised the revival of a “spirit of jihad” in his country, while vowing to wage a “decisive battle” against South Sudan.
What an idiot--he doesn't even know his own religion. I have read and heard many Western liberals say that "jihad" means an inner struggle.

True Colors

You may remember a few days ago a story of an Israeli military officer that struck a foreign (Danish?) protester with his rifle.

After watching the video, I didn't see that the officer used excessive force. First of all, the blow was with the side of the rifle and was more of a forceful push. Second, it appeared to be justified given that the protesters were ordered back, but failed to comply. The soldier was a heck of lot nicer than a cop would have been under the same circumstance.

Anyway, the protesters revealed their true colors, scrawling a Nazi swastika on the wall of a detention room.

Terahertz Scanners for Cell Phones?

The team's research involves tapping into an unused range in the electromagnetic spectrum.

But the terahertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum, one of the wavelength ranges that falls between microwave and infrared, has not been accessible for most consumer devices.

‘We've created approaches that open a previously untapped portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for consumer use and life-saving medical applications,’ said Dr. Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas.

‘The terahertz range is full of unlimited potential that could benefit us all.’

Using the new approach, images can be created with signals operating in the terahertz (THz) range without having to use several lenses inside a device. This could reduce overall size and cost.

The second advance that makes the findings applicable for consumer devices is the technology used to create the microchip.

Chips manufactured using CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology form the basis of many consumer electronic devices used in daily life such as personal computers, smart phones, high definition TV and game consoles.

‘CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips,’ Dr. O said. ‘The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and receiver on the back of a cellphone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects.’

Due to privacy concerns, Dr. O and his team are focused on uses in the distance range of less than four inches.

Consumer applications of such technology could range from finding studs in walls to authentication of important documents. Businesses could use it to detect counterfeit money.

Manufacturing companies could apply it to process control.

There are also more communication channels available in terahertz than the range currently used for wireless communication, so information could be more rapidly shared at this frequency.

Terahertz can also be used for imaging to detect cancer tumors, diagnosing disease through breath analysis, and monitoring air toxicity.

‘There are all kinds of things you could be able to do that we just haven't yet thought about,’ said Dr. O, holder of the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair.
Here is my thought: develop slightly longer ranges on it so citizens can perform body scans of TSA agents. If the TSA body scanners aren't an invasion of privacy, then the TSA agents shouldn't have any reason to object.

Over a 6 Year Period Mexico Has Had 56,000 Soldiers Desert

As high as the number of deserters may sound, it actually represents an improvement over recent years.

Over 106,000 soldiers abandoned the military without authorization during the previous Mexican administration of Vicente Fox, who belonged to the same center-right National Action Party as Calderón.
What the article doesn't mention is that most of these soldiers take their weapons with them, which wind up in the hands of criminals.

India Successfully Tests Ballistic Missile

I had posted the other day about India having developed a longer range ballistic missile. Well, India has successfully tested the missile.
The Agni-V missile is expected to become fully operational as early as 2014 after several more tests, The Times of India reported. It has a range of more than 3,100 miles, according to a BBC report.

The LA Times reported that the 50-ton, 55-foot three-stage rocket is named after the Hindu god of fire. However, it said the missile had been dubbed the "China killer" by the Indian press.

The launch, which was flagged well in advance, has attracted none of the criticism from the West faced by hermit state North Korea for a failed bid to send up a similar rocket last week.

But China noted the launch with disapproval.

"The West chooses to overlook India's disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties,'' China's Global Times newspaper said in an editorial published before the launch, which was delayed a day due to bad weather at the test site.

"India should not overestimate its strength,'' said the paper, which is owned by the Chinese Communist Party's main mouthpiece the People's Daily.

Fast emerging as a world economic power, India is keen to play a larger role on the global stage and has long angled for a permanent seat on the Security Council. In recent years it has emerged as the world's top arms importer as it upgrades equipment for a large but outdated military.

"It is one of the ways of signaling India's arrival on the global stage, that India deserves to be sitting at the high table," Harsh Pant, a defense expert at King's College, London, said, describing the launch as a "confidence boost."

NATO said on Wednesday it did not consider India a threat. The U.S. State Department said India's non-proliferation record was "solid,'' while urging restraint.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Further Update on the Philippine-Chinese Standoff

China said Wednesday that the Philippines is violating maritime law by claiming a shoal in the South China Sea and dismissed Manila's request to take the dispute to an international court.

"We believe it runs counter to historical facts and violates the law," said Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

Philippine navy and Chinese maritime patrol vessels engaged in a standoff last week over a fishing incident near the Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea, an area both sides claim as sovereign territory.

Liu said China had "lodged solemn representations" with the Philippines and that Fu Ying, a vice foreign minister, had called in the Philippine envoy on Wednesday over the issue.

The Philippines plans to seek resolution in an international court, arguing that the shoal is well within the country's 370-kilometer (230-mile) exclusive economic zone that is recognized under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Liu said the Philippines is violating international law by using the U.N. convention to call into question sovereignty over the territory, known as Huangyan island in Chinese.

"China has sufficient legal evidence for its jurisdiction over the Huangyan island. China was the earliest to discover and name the island, and has included it on maps and exercised its sovereignty over it ever since," Liu said.

Liu said that the Philippines never objected to China's territorial control of the shoal before 1997 and that its claim now is "completely baseless."

A Philippine government statement on Wednesday contradicted Liu's remarks, saying it has effectively occupied and exercised jurisdiction over the shoal -- which it calls Bajo de Masinloc, or Panatag shoal -- for decades.

A map published in 1734 showed the shoal was part of the northwestern Philippine province of Zambales, the government said, adding that a Philippine flag and lighthouse were erected on Scarborough islets in 1965.
China summoned a diplomat from the Philippines for a second time on Wednesday to protest Manila's claim over an area of the South China Sea, a foreign ministry spokesman said, as the standoff between the two countries showed no sign of ending.

The most recent dispute is well into its second week, with a Philippine coast guard ship and two Chinese maritime surveillance vessels faced off near the Scarborough Shoal in waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying "urgently summoned" the Philippines Charge' d'affaires, Alex Chua, on Sunday and again on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters.

"She pointed out that the Philippines military vessels' harassment of Chinese fishermen and fishing boats have drawn the close attention of China," Liu said.

"We hope the Philippines side will honour its commitment and withdraw its ships from the relevant waters immediately, so that the waters of Huangyan island can return to peace and stability."

India to Test Nuclear Missile

As this AP story at Fox News reports, India will soon be testing a new nuclear missile capable of striking major cities in China, as part of an effort to counter-balance China's growing military power in the region.
India is planning to test launch a new nuclear-capable missile that for the first time would give it the capability of hitting the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai.

The government has hailed the Agni-V missile, with a range of 3,100 miles, as a major boost to its efforts to counter China's regional dominance and become an Asian power in its own right. The test launch was slated to come as early as Wednesday evening, but Indian media said a delay was likely because of poor weather conditions.

"It will be a quantum leap in India's strategic capability," said Ravi Gupta, spokesman for India's Defense Research and Development Organization, which built the missile.

China is far ahead of India in the missile race, with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching anywhere in India. Currently, the longest-range Indian missile, the Agni-III, has a range of only 2,100 miles and falls short of many major Chinese cities.

India and China fought a war in 1962 and continue to nurse a border dispute. India has also been suspicious of Beijing's efforts to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean in recent years.

"While China doesn't really consider India any kind of a threat or any kind of a rival, India definitely doesn't think in the same way," said Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst in New Delhi.
In China didn't expect regional arms races, it should have. China has not only had conflicts with India, but also with Vietnam (not only a failed invasion of Vietnam in 1979, but continued provocations) and, more recently, the Philippines. As this article from last year notes:
Among India’s military leadership and security hawks, China looms larger and larger as a potential threat. They are particularly concerned about what they identify as a “collusive threat” posed by a nuclear-armed neighbour, the traditional foe Pakistan, and the growing military might of China.

China’s supply of weaponry to Pakistan, particularly JF-17 jets, has fuelled these suspicions. So too has China’s assertiveness over territory in the Himalayas and at sea. Delhi was alarmed by a challenge to an Indian naval vessel by the Chinese navy in July off the coast of Vietnam – described by Indian officials as the first “incident” of its kind.

China has also rattled India’s defence establishment by parading technological breakthroughs, like its own aircraft carrier and ship-busting missiles, all of which could come to challenge India’s dominance of the Indian Ocean and crucial shipping lanes between the Middle East and Asia.

India has been no slouch itself. Although 70 per cent of its military hardware is imported, it has launched its own stealth frigate and a nuclear submarine modelled on a Russian design. It has tested a range of longer-distance missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile called the Brahmos, and boasts a capable space programme.

* * *
Nonetheless, India’s military establishment is looking more to its eastern border, where the Chinese invaded, albeit briefly, in 1962. A programme of infrastructure and airfield improvement is under way to give greater reach into the Himalayan region. The army is pushing for a $2.5bn Mountain Strike Corps, which would lead to the deployment of a greater number of high-altitude troops (required to operate up to a height of 20,000 feet).
Whatever China's goals, it is clear that its neighbors are apprehensive of China asserting itself military.

TSA To Start Riding and Checking Houston Buses

Inforwars has linked to a story about the TSA covertly riding Houston area buses to monitor passengers and question passengers:
Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee unveiled the program, labeled Bus Safe, during a press conference on Friday. According to a Metropolitan Transit Authority of Houston (METRO) press release, agencies involved in the scheme will, “ride buses, perform random bag checks, and conduct K-9 sweeps, as well as place uniformed and plainclothes officers at Transit Centers and rail platforms to detect, prevent and address latent criminal activity or behavior.”

“While local law enforcement agencies focus on overall safety measures noted above, representatives with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will also be on hand, lending their counter-terrorism expertise and support during the exercise,” states the press release.
Just another example how we increasingly live in a police state in every sense of the word.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Wall Street Insider Interview...

... at the Ulsterman Report, warning of increased riots this summer.

Bo Xilai First Approved, Then Blocked Heywood Murder Investigation

Reuters reported on Monday that Briton Neil Heywood was poisoned last November after he threatened to expose a plan by Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, to move money abroad.

The scandal is potentially the most divisive the Communist Party has faced since Zhao Ziyang was sacked as Party chief in 1989 for opposing the brutal army crackdown on student-led demonstrations for democracy centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing that year.

Before his fall, Bo, 62, was widely seen as a contender for a post in China's top leadership committee, which will be decided later this year.

In a tense meeting on or about January 18, Wang confronted Bo with evidence implicating Gu in the death of Heywood, a former friend of the Bo family, said two sources with knowledge of police and government information on the case.

Bo was so angry he ordered Wang out of the office, but after composing himself he told Wang to return and signaled that he would let the inquiry proceed, the sources added.

Two or three days later, Bo backflipped and shunted aside Wang in an apparent bid to quash the inquiry and protect his wife and his career, the sources said.

Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu on February 6 in an apparent asylum attempt, which exposed the rift between him and Bo and later brought to light official suspicions that Bo's wife engineered Heywood's murder.

It is not possible to contact Gu, Bo or Wang. Gu and Wang are in custody and Bo has not been seen in public since March, when he was dismissed as boss of Chongqing, in southwest China. He was stripped of his seat on the Politburo last week.
Another story reports:
Over the weekend, Internet postings, widely repeated by some Western news agencies, said that cyanide was the poison. A household orderly — what many would call a “butler” — may have been involved.

The government has remained silent.

The unfolding story of the downfall of Bo Xilai, 62, and his wife has profound implications for the world’s second-largest economy. Before his removal last month as Chongqing’s party secretary, Bo was widely expected to gain a seat later this year on the nation’s Politburo Standing Committee, the epicenter of power in China.

Those plans came to a halt after a series of imbroglios that were given an unusual amount of public exposure, raising speculation that senior officials in the government had used them to smear Bo and make his ouster easier to engineer.

Bo was seen to have alienated some in Beijing by his brash ambition. There were, too, his campaign in Chongqing to celebrate Maoist-era culture and a police crackdown on criminal groups that critics say was used to remove his rivals and seize assets.

Bo’s steep plummet from grace began in February when his former police chief, a man named Wang Lijun, took an unsanctioned trip to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, possibly seeking asylum. The government has not explained why, exactly, Wang fled Chongqing. Others have sought to fill in the gaps.

“Wang Lijun was handling the (Heywood death) case and during the process he discovered that the death wasn’t caused because he drank too much alcohol … but it was due to poisoning,” Wang Kang, a public commentator and documentary filmmaker who is well connected in Chongqing, told McClatchy.

After Wang Lijun presented Bo with the news that his wife was wrapped up in Heywood’s murder, Bo kicked Wang out of his office and then called him back in, Wang Kang said. Wang Kang and Wang Lijun apparently are not related.

“Bo Xilai said that he himself would teach his wife a lesson,” Wang said.

Pressed in an interview Tuesday about how he’d come across his information, Wang Kang said he’d been in contact with sources, but he wouldn’t say anything more specific. That Wang is able to speak openly and by name about the matter with foreign press without being punished by the government — others declined interviews on Tuesday — suggests that officials approve of his message.

Wang, however, said in a later phone conversation, “Nobody told me either that I am allowed or not allowed to say these things.”

Needless to say, much remains unclear about the story.

For instance, the Lucky Holiday Hotel, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, was publicly named in Western news reports this week as the scene of Heywood’s death. But no security presence hindered a McClatchy reporter’s visit Tuesday to the hotel, which is more widely known as the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel. The lack of security at the scene of so sensitive an event is, in China, unusual.

Asked whether a foreign man showed up dead in a room or villa in November, a clerk behind the front counter, who did not give her name, said she worked there at the time and “We really haven’t heard anything about this.” Was a manager around for further comment? The clerk quickly said that her boss would not be available for an interview.
William Pesek, at Bloomberg, discusses the murder, dismissing the conventional "wisdom" that Bo's downfall was engineered to stop Bo from developing a cult of personality. Instead, he writes:
We’re missing the true story here, though. It’s really more evidence that China’s political system is trapped in the past, while its economy races ahead. This dangerous mismatch is often dismissed by pundits and investors, and yet Bo’s ambitious rise and fall, as well as the opacity surrounding it, embodies much of what’s wrong in the fastest-growing major economy.

China is iPad central, with state-of-the-art factories, modern office towers of mirrored glass, six-lane highways, high- speed rail, expanding WiFi networks and state wealth that’s the envy of Washington and Tokyo. China’s nouveau riche are so vital to Prada SpA, Louis Vuitton and Mercedes-Benz that they have been called the “Middle Blingdom.”

Yet China’s political system dates to the days of Mao and Josef Stalin. As democracy takes root from Egypt to Myanmar, China is still mired in closed-door deliberations, backroom deals and purges. This murky world is bumping up against a burgeoning Internet culture that makes it impossible to contain and control the news.

It turns out that China isn’t as governable as it might seem. Wen makes hopeful comments about moving toward democracy, but China is still in the grip of its history -- both recent and ancient. To avoid repeating mistakes, a nation’s people must know what that record entails. Remember that a picture of Mao still towers over Tiananmen Square, the site of events the Chinese can’t even talk about.

China bulls cite the five-year plans Beijing puts forth. This year’s power shift will bring great expectations that the next one will reform the economy so that it relies less on investment and exports and more on consumption. Laying out a grand scheme doesn’t immediately make its tenets fact -- especially now.

Political risk can’t be ruled out as the focus turns to greed. How could Bo, with his modest government salary and a wife he claims doesn’t work, live so well and afford to send his son to a string of pricey schools in the U.K. and U.S.?

All this light shining on high-level misconduct might pose a threat to the Communist Party’s legitimacy by drawing renewed attention to the yawning gap between the elite and the poor.
Pesek adds:
To continue to thrive, China must stop transferring vast amounts of income from households to the state. That means more power for consumers, and less for China’s ultra-rich. The question is, as China tries to reform, will the nation’s 1 percent fight it? And when we talk about this select group, we’re really referring to the political leadership.
Since today is tax day in the U.S., a can sympathize with the idea that countries should stop transferring vast amounts of income from households to the state (and its cronies--Solyndra, anyone?). However, Bo's downfall is not directly the result of crony communism, but another case of pride (and wealth and power) proceeding the downfall. Whether Bo's case provided a convenient opportunity for political rivals to get rid of Bo, or it simply is too large of a scandal to contain and so he had to be removed from office, we may never know.

The New York Times has this op-ed piece that suggest that the scandal will have larger implications for China:
In the view of some analysts and party insiders, that same scandal has raised the notion of high-level misconduct among China’s elite to a level that some say could have far-reaching and unpleasant implications for stability. It could cast a long shadow over one of the party’s linchpins: the notion that a handful of all-powerful officials and retired elders are better qualified to pick their successors than are ordinary citizens.
And here is an article for the New York Times discussing Mr. Wang's involvement:
On the evening of Feb. 6, a vice mayor of a major Chinese city who had a reputation as a crime fighter turned up at the American Consulate in Chengdu in an agitated state, wearing a disguise and telling a tale of corruption and murder that has ensnared the Obama administration in a scandal it wants nothing to do with.

The official, Wang Lijun, sought asylum, fearing for his life even as Chinese security forces quickly surrounded the building and asked the American diplomats inside to turn him over.

Instead, after a frantic debate that reached the White House, Mr. Wang stayed until he could arrange for an official in the ministry of public safety in Beijing to come 36 hours later and escort him past the security cordon outside to safety — or, more likely, custody. He has not been heard from since, and is now under investigation for divulging internal Chinese affairs to the Americans. If charged with and convicted of treason, he could face a death sentence.

The information Mr. Wang possessed involved Bo Xilai, who was the Communist Party chief in Chongqing until last month and Mr. Wang’s onetime patron before a falling-out led Mr. Wang to seek refuge in the consulate, according to administration officials, Congressional aides, diplomats and others briefed on what had happened.

According to the officials’ version, the American diplomats who oversaw his brief, bizarre stay pre-empted any formal application for asylum because of the difficulties of spiriting him out of the country and questions about his eligibility. Instead, they said, the State Department shielded him from almost certain arrest by police officers loyal to Mr. Bo and ensured he could make his accusations in Beijing.

Those charges brought down Mr. Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, who is now under investigation in the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, and involved the United States and Britain in the biggest scandal facing China’s leadership in a generation.

“He was not tossed out,” a senior administration official said, referring to Mr. Wang.

Some Republicans in Congress question, however, whether the Obama administration mishandled Mr. Wang’s case and left him to the mercy of the Chinese authorities when he had sought to pass along explosive information that affected a power struggle at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Wang’s arrival at the consulate could not have come at a more sensitive moment for the administration: just a week before China’s likely future leader, Xi Jinping, was scheduled to visit Washington at the invitation of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Granting asylum to Mr. Wang could have soured or scuttled Mr. Xi’s trip.

Even now, the episode — which one Congressional official described as “a ‘Bourne Supremacy’ plot” — risks straining relations as the White House hopes to manage China’s rise and enlist its support on issues like the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran and the government crackdown in Syria.

As a result, the American role has been shrouded in silence. Officials at the embassy in Beijing, the State Department and the White House have declined to comment publicly on Mr. Wang’s contacts with American diplomats or the implications of his whistle-blowing on China’s suddenly turbulent internal politics.

Read more here:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chinese/Philippine Standoff

Coverage of this has been very low-key in the media, but China and the Philippines have had a brief naval standoff over fishing grounds near the Philippines.

Last Thursday, Fox News reported:
The standoff in the South China Sea between the naval forces of the Philippines and China is in danger of escalating, as the U.S. continues to watch anxiously.

China has now sent a third ship to support its claim to the area known as Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines.

Philippine warships attempting to arrest the crews of a Chinese fishing fleet that had entered the territory sparked the latest dispute between the two Asian countries.

They were stopped from doing so by the arrival of two Chinese surveillance ships, which then ordered the Philippine warships to leave the area.

They refused arguing that its Philippine territory and have since sent a second warship to the area.

"We're not retreating from our own territory," Alexander Pama, Chief Vice Admiral of the Philippine navy said.

China also claims the rich fishing ground as its own despite it being within 200 nautical miles of the Philippines.
On Friday, there was this story from the Associated Press:
Three of eight Chinese fishing boats at the center of a standoff between China and the Philippines have left a shoal in the disputed South China Sea, officials said Friday.

But the standoff continues, with two other Chinese surveillance ships and a Philippine coast guard vessel remaining in the area, said Gen. Jessie Dellosa, the Philippine armed forces chief.

The standoff began Tuesday when Chinese ships prevented the Philippine navy from detaining Chinese fishermen who were allegedly caught poaching at the Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines.
The article also had more information on the history of conflicts over the area, including Chinese harassment of Vietnamese fishermen.

Today, the New York Times reports:
Against a backdrop of tension between Manila and Beijing, the Philippines and the United States began joint military exercises on Monday that will include mock beach invasions along coastlines facing China.

The exercises are taking place as a maritime standoff between China and the Philippines continues in the Scarborough Shoal, a disputed string of rock outcroppings 124 nautical miles west of Luzon Island in the northern Philippines.

Philippine officials stressed repeatedly that the military exercises, in the southwestern island province of Palawan and around Luzon, were not linked to the Scarborough Shoal standoff and not meant to provoke China.

The military exercises were planned “way, way ahead” of the current situation in the Scarborough Shoal, President Benigno S. Aquino III said Monday.

At the opening ceremonies of the exercises, the chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces, Lt. Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa, said regional concerns were being addressed by strengthening the military alliance with the United States.

“The conduct of this annual event reflects the aspirations to further relations with our strategic ally, a commitment that has to be nurtured especially in the context of the evolving challenges in the region,” General Dellosa said.

The standoff at the Scarborough Shoal began April 8 when Philippine surveillance aircraft spotted Chinese fishing boats near the shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim.

The Philippine Navy sent a 378-foot patrol frigate, its largest warship, to search the fishing vessels. On Tuesday, two Chinese ships took positions blocking the Philippine Navy vessel’s access to the fishing boats.

On Wednesday, the Philippines pulled out the warship and replaced it with a smaller coast guard vessel. The Chinese fishing boats were allowed to leave the area with their catch, which the Philippines contends was illegally obtained. China also reduced its presence on the shoal to a single ship.

In an effort to defuse the situation, both countries rescinded diplomatic protests regarding the episode.

After tensions calmed down, Philippine officials accused China of sending another ship to the shoal, of making intimidating flybys of the lone vessel from the Philippines and of harassing another Philippine research ship in the area.

A Philippine Coast Guard official told reporters on Monday afternoon that the situation at the shoal was “stable,” with two Chinese ships and a Philippine search-and-rescue vessel there.
More coverage from the Voice of America and Reuters. The Reuters story notes that the showdown has not been in the best interests if either China or the Philippines:
Richard Jacobson, of security consultancy Pacific Strategies and Assessments, said China's only accomplishment in the dispute was to reinforce its image as a bully.

"I guess you can argue that it was an embarrassment for the Philippines," Jacobson said. "It really underscores their lack of capacity to enforce their maritime enforcement issues."

Aileen Baviera, of the Asian Centre at the University of the Philippines, said China's actions were being shaped by the active U.S. interest in the region and the close Philippine-U.S. maritime security cooperation.

Twenty years after voting to remove the American bases, the Philippines wants to give U.S. troops more access to its ports and airfields to deter China's growing assertiveness.
Strangely, the China Daily reports that there is a Philippine vessel in the contested area conducting an archaeological recovery.