Amid the doom and gloom. With stock markets crashing amid disappointment that the Chinese Government has not announced a further boost to domestic demand, here’s one tiny suggestion that offers a glimmer of hope. The Baltic Dry Index, a strange beast that measures demand for bulk carrying ships, has over recent days had a slight rise. Optimists believe this indicates that global trade is heading for a modest improvement in the second half of 2009 as the stimulus package already adopted by China begins to work.

The irrelevance of words by politicians. Forget the debate. It is not the words from the mouths of politicians that will influence people; the predictions about recession or no recession mean nothing. It is on what actually happens that the Rudd Government will be judged. And it is by no means certain that the judgment will be an electorally harsh one even if we are entering a period of rising high unemployment and falling living standards. The continued re-election of the Hawke/Keating governments proved that.

Quote of the day: “2UE is dead. The Sydney Morning Herald is dead. Fairfax is dead. It’s just no-one’s realised.” — John Singleton commenting on the latest Sydney radio station ratings.

Crikey Indicator Update. A Galaxy opinion poll  puts the Queensland Liberal National Party in front of Labor 51% to 49% and the Election Indicator reduces Labor from a 72% probability of winning to 68%.

A human rights tit for tat. When you need another country’s money to stop going down the economic gurgler, it is not a good idea to criticise them for having increased severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities, increased detention and harassment of dissidents and petitioners, maintained tight controls on freedom of speech and the internet, engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, used forced labour (including prison labour), denied workers cannot the choice of an independent union to represent them in the workplace, and failed to protect workers’ right to strike.

So it was that United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently gave a very low key presentation  of her department’s annual report on human rights, did not mention China at all and departed the press conference before she could be asked any questions. At a time when Chinese trillions are needed to finance those Treasury notes, Ms Clinton, it appears, has no interest in giving undue publicity to passages like this:

The government continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, activists, and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law. A lack of due process and restrictions on lawyers further limited progress toward rule of law, with serious consequences for defendants who were imprisoned or executed following proceedings that fell far short of international standards. The party and state exercised strict political control of courts and judges, conducted closed trials, and carried out administrative detention. Individuals and groups, especially those deemed politically sensitive by the government, continued to face tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, their freedom to practice religion, and their freedom to travel. The government continued its coercive birth limitation policy, in some cases resulting in forced abortion or forced sterilization. The government failed to protect refugees adequately, and the detention and forced repatriation of North Koreans continued to be a problem. Serious social conditions that affected human rights included endemic corruption, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities.

Nor do the Chinese this year apparently want to make too big a thing of their assessment of the United States’ own human rights record. The Information Office of the Chinese State Council published a report titled “The Human Rights Record of United States in 2008” with very little fanfare but these extracts from a report by Xinhua give the flavour:

The report warned the United States that widespread violent crime posed serious threats to its people’s lives and security.

According to a report published in September 2008 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the country reported 1.4 million violent crimes, including 17,000 murders and 9.8 million property crimes in 2007.

More frequent gun killings were a serious threat to the lives of U.S. citizens, the report said.

It quoted the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention assaying that 1.35 million high school students in 2007 were either threatened or injured with a weapon at least once on school property.

The report said an increasing number of restrictions had been imposed on civil rights in the United States.

It cited government surveillance of online activities, new legislation on government wiretapping last July, more cases of police abuse of force and neglect of basic rights of 2.3 million prisoners in the United States.

The United States was facing a number of social problems, including a wide wealth gap, increasing number of homeless, needy people and those suffering hunger, the report said.

It quoted the U.S. Census Bureau as saying in August 2008 that 12.5 percent of Americans, or 37.3 million people, were living in poverty in 2007, up from 36.5 million in 2006.

The unemployment rate increased from 4.6 percent in 2007 to 5.8percent in 2008, the report said.

People in the United States saw their pension plans shrink, health insurance cut and school tuition increase, while drugs, suicide and other social problems prevailed, according to the report.

The report said racial discrimination prevails in “every aspect of social life” in the United States, ranging from income, employment, education, to judicial system, often with African Americans as major victims.

“Nearly one quarter of black American households live below the poverty line, three times that of white households,” it said, citing The State of Black America, issued by the National Urban League in March 2008.

The jobless rate for blacks was 10.6 percent in the third quarter of 2008, twice that of the whites, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Peter Fray
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