I was saddened by the news that Swiss banks have been ordered to release over US$6 million to the family of the late Congolese dictator Mobutu. It shows that despite some recent success stories (i.e., the Montesinos and Duvalier cases), Switzerland apparently still lacks sufficient legal instruments to go decisively after money that has been embezzled or stolen by ruthless dictators and hidden away in Swiss bank accounts. Meanwhile, the case further tarnishes the image of Switzerland and its banks, giving support to those arguing that Swiss bank secrecy laws continue to provide a safe haven for stolen assets.
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Sixty-five years ago, on 20 July 1944, during the darkest days of German history, a few good men brought back a small spark of light to the conscience of a nation torn by war and involved in history’s most unprecedented mass murder. The story is well-known. So is the result: the attempt to remove Hitler from power with the help of his own contingency plan “Valkyrie” tragically failed.
What might not be so well-known is that Count Claus von Stauffenberg, according to Cambridge historian Richard J Evans, “found moral guidance in a complex mixture of Catholic religious precepts, an aristocratic sense of honour, Ancient Greek ethics, and German Romantic poetry. Above all, perhaps, his sense of morality was formed under the influence of the poet Stefan George, whose ambition it was to revive a ‘Secret Germany’ that would sweep away the materialism of the Weimar Republic and restore German life to its true spirituality.”
The key to understanding that “Secret Germany” (as cryptically elaborated in a poem by the same title, which was written around 1910, but hermetically kept from the public until 1928) is the idea that only the poet with his charismatic authority can voice the arcane without revealing it. It is him being the “spiritus rector” who deepens the inner reflections of his disciples, who awakens their intellectual and spiritual sensitivity, so his word is followed by their action.
For The Economist, as for most other commentators, the dice have been cast. Four years after it won a landslide victory under the reformist banner held by Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is expected to lose the lower house elections set for 30 August. The predicted winner will be the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) (don’t be misled by the party names, they don’t mean much).
However, government change has been predicted before, or as The Economist writes: “The 54-year-old LDP’s obituary has been written many times, and the corpse has always revived.” Among those obituarists is also The Economist, who like me, have been wrong in the past. But this time, the evidence seems defeating. Recent opinion polls suggest that 46 percent of the respondents would vote for the DPJ compared to 19 percent for the LDP. A week ago, the DPJ won the elections to the Tokyo metropolitan assembly and pushed aside the LDP, which had been the biggest party there for 40 years.
Nevertheless, I remain skeptical about the prospect of government change. Let me give you four reasons for this.
In the wake of the Xinjiang riots, mass casualties and plenty of unwanted press, Chinese leaders were undoubtedly hoping for some good news.
They did not have to wait long. Little more than a week after the Urumqi riots Chinese authorities announced that the Chinese economy had grown by a healthy 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2009. Compared to the West, this is a spectacular achievement and an encouraging sign for all those that saw the end of the world coming just months ago.
To the surprise of many seasoned China analysts and economists, China’s stimulus package managed to inject much-needed capital into the industrial sector; succeeded in offsetting the worst effects of massive export-industry layoffs by employing migrant workers in government projects, and perhaps most importantly, ensured that government-owned banks continued to lend despite the downturn. Even retail sales rebounded, the government announced, indicating that the Chinese consumer is still feeling confident and secure (unlike the rest of us).