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Daily Archives: November 8, 2009

Could Warren Buffett Buy North Korea?

Thus spake the headline in Le Figaro by that paper’s Beijing correspondent Arnaud de le Grange, whose dispatch of 23 October runs goes a little something like this:

Le magazine Forbes a mis en parallèle la fortune de certains de ses hôtes du classement des 400 premières fortunes mondiales et les économies de plusieurs pays.

Au lieu de se payer châteaux en ­France, îlots paradisiaques dans les Caraïbes ou yachts de luxe à la 007, les plus hardis des milliardaires de la planète pourraient se mettre à acheter des États. Et si possible des pays englués dans une misère crasse, de manière à rendre service à l’humanité… Le magazine Forbes s’est ainsi amusé à mettre en parallèle la fortune de certains de ses hôtes du classement des 400 premières fortunes mondiales et les économies de plusieurs pays. Le plus riche des Américains, Bill Gates, avec ses 50 milliards de dollars, peut toiser les PIB de 140 pays de la planète. Même des «petits budgets» comme Gary Magness, qui a fait fortune dans l’eau au Colorado, avec ses 990 millions de dollars, pourraient s’offrir le Vanuatu. Le fondateur d’eBay, Pierre Omidyar, avec sa fortune de 5,5 milliards de dollars, pourrait contrôler le marché somalien. Et, malgré la perte de quelque 10 milliards de dollars dans la dernière tempête économique mondiale, Warren Buffett aurait encore de quoi acheter la Corée du Nord, dont l’économie ne pèse pas plus de 40 milliards de dollars. Pour l’offrir ensuite à Barack Obama ?

La Grange spins the Fortune magazine numbers thus: Bill Gates’ net worth exceeds the GDP of 140 nations; the founder of E-Bay could buy the entire Somalian economy, and Warren Buffet, in spite of losing 10 billion dollars in the global downturn, could still purchase the North Korean economy with his 40 billion dollars.  I don’t know whether to call this innovative thinking or find the whole thing offensive.  De La Grange, having been in the hothouse of Chinese capitalist economy for a few years now, has no compulsions about concluding his piece with the speculation that Warren Buffett, having bought North Korea, could then offer it up to Barack Obama.   Take it as a lesson, perhaps, in how quickly the DPRK could be swallowed up in the world system if it were ever to implode.  Or, casting aside the juche mentality, see it as a golden promise for prosperity that could be dispensed to Pyongyang from rich white men in Omaha, Nebraska, or on the shores of Lake Washington on Seattle’s East Side.

Protests in Okinawa

Prior to Obama’s upcoming visit to Japan, about 20,000 Japanese took to the streets yesterday in protest in Okinawa.  In the case of the US-Japan alliance, it appears that for all of the political and environmental harmony between Hatoyama and Obama, and in spite of the fact that the Japanese were among the most excited for his having won the Nobel Peace Prize, that certain underlying structural aspects of US-Japan relations were bond to make Obama the focus of ire in Japan.

Anti-Americanism, in other words, far surpasses the crouching, strutting, brush-cutting figure of George W. Bush.  The Epoch Times reports:

GINOWAN, Japan—Thousands of Japanese gathered in sweltering heat on the southern island of Okinawa on Sunday to demand that a U.S. Marine base be moved out of the region, days ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The row over the re-siting of the Futenma air base threatens to stall a realignment of the 47,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan and sour defence ties between the two countries, seen as key in a region home to a rising China and an unpredictable North Korea.

It could also prove a domestic headache for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose support ratings have slipped since his landslide election victory in August.

“Okinawa’s future is for us, the Okinawan people to decide,” Ginowan mayor Yoichi Iha told a supportive crowd which spilled out of an open-air theatre by the beach. “We cannot let America decide for us.”

Organisers put the number of protesters at 21,000.

Under a 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement, the Futenma Marine base in the centre of the city of Ginowan is set to be closed and replaced with a facility built partly on reclaimed land at Henoko, a remoter part of the island, by 2014.

The deal, which Washington wants to push through after years of what a military official called “painful” negotiations, is part of a wider plan to re-organise U.S. troops and reduce the burden on Okinawa by moving up to 8,000 Marines to Guam.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged Japan to approve the plan ahead of Obama’s visit, which is scheduled to start on Nov. 12.



Kono Michi

Kono Michi is the pop-music persona of the highly talented Californian/Japanese violinist Michi Wiancko:

Michi’s homepage, both in English and Japanese [日文], provides more information about her current projects and performances.

Michi and I studied together at the Cleveland Institute of Music, a highly-ranked and rather competitive institution whose guts in which we churned looked like this:

CIM hallway

Practice room hallway, Cleveland Institute of Music; photo by Adam Cathcart

Fortunately our teachers’ studios, and the camraderie among students, were more congenial than the cinder blocks and soundproof doors might otherwise indicate.   It was what a great undergraduate education should be: uplifting, difficult, tapping deep reserves, charged through with trembling thoughts of the pending crisis of freedom, enriching, full of wild and divergent types of personalities and demanding teachers.  Not all of us went on to get orchestra jobs, although the school’s emphasis on that particular career path for instrumentalists (or the creation of that rare breed, the orchestral soloist) lent the education a certain inexorable momentum toward thoughtful careerism.  Yet, somehow amidst the blind-peer-reviewed mock auditions of orchestral repertoire classes and mandatory tutoring in eurhythmic dance, we bent our traditional conservatory education toward slightly different sets of goals.

Not that diminutive bodhisattvas of chamber music would mind.

Michi was, and remains, a mean classicist when the occasion warrants — I have heard her blaze through Bach fugues for solo violin as well as Brahms string quartets.  Whether she is on her new home turf of that artistic mecca of Brooklyn, in California, Asia, or Europe, in whatever genre, she is an artist worth hearing.

And she is an innovator!  Enjoy the music.


North Korea News Roundup

Almost exactly one year to the day from his election, Barack Obama now has a point man for a controversial arm of his North Korea policy.   Robert King, nominated as Obama’s Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues, a position created by the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, had a hearing on November 5 for Senator John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

there he is -- the harbinger!

King’s prepared statement for the committee is available here; the Daily NK spin is here; a few selections from King follow:

The United States Government has been and remains deeply concerned about the human rights conditions in North Korea and the plight of North Korean refugees. In part this is a reflection of who we are as a nation. We were founded on fundamental principles of human rights, and our support for these rights is an essential part of who the American people are. At the same time, respect for human rights by the DPRK will have a significant impact on the prospect for closer ties with the United States and will be necessary for North Korea to fully participate in the international community.

While I do not believe that we will be able to change conditions quickly or radically, I do believe that we must seek to make progress where we are able at a pace that is sustainable.

– We have made progress in expanding broadcasting into North Korea, and, if confirmed, I will continue this effort. This is important in breaking down the isolation of the North Korean people and making available independent sources of information inside the country. My first position after completing graduate school was with Radio Free Europe at a time when Central Europe was under Soviet domination, and I saw first-hand the importance of our international broadcasting in expanding human rights.

The United States also remains committed to improving conditions for those who leave the DPRK. We continue to work with international organizations and countries in the region to help North Korean asylum seekers obtain protection, including by resettling some in the United States.

Many encouraging things are present here, particularly the turning the human rights issue inside out, showing North Korea that benefits can flow from a policy of change.  Not incidentally, the French people and politicians agree heartily with the first paragraph quoted above (just substitute “French” for “American”), meaning that if France were able to open up relations with North Korea, more pressure could be applied on the human rights front.

Thus it is heartening that today’s Parisian left-wing (and wonderful) paper Liberation reports that Sarkozy emphasized the human rights angle to envoy Jack Lang, who will be starting a five-day visit to North Korea soon.  In an earlier piece, Liberation speculates that Obama’s time in Beijing will be occupied with coordination on the North Korea issue, navigating between the North’s demands for a permanent peace and its brandishing fissile material.

On the environmental front, NK Leadership Watch reports on the appointment of a new Minister of Land and Environmental Protection, all in the context of battles between citizens and the state over land use.  Forestry, the Daily NK reports, is being used to suppress the people who are trying to do patch farming.


Patch farming on a steep Tumen River ravine just east of Hyesan, Ryanggang province, DPRK; Photo by Adam Cathcart

Chinese tourism officials are in the DPRK holding talks, while the European Business Association in Pyongyang is keeping very busy.

Liberation also carries an interesting interview about the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and the costs and benefits of aiding North Korea, with an ex-Unifcation minister from the ROK, Park Jae-kyu, who was in Paris on account of the Chirac Foundation.  “It’s hard to conceive of a reunification of the two Koreas,” he said, a bit paradoxically, given his previous line of work.

Although I usually spend more time looking at story comments in Chinese, a couple of comments French “netizens” on the above story caught my eye:

Kim Il Sarko et Nicolas Jong Il
C’est vrai, quel drôle de pays dictatorial et nespotique, où le président chauffe la plus haute place pour son fistounet…
À quand leur pas de deux ?