Monday, July 02, 2007

Western promoting democracy in China?

Here is real deal or motivation behind western right wing's support for any anti-China govements groups and political activities.
Turns out, rising China is the real "Amerikkka," as the Black Panthers and the Weathermen used to refer in writing to the United States: an arrogant, imperialist power, polluting and plundering the planet while seeking global military dominance.

Increasingly, ordinary Americans appreciate this, understand the threat. But the nation's so-called leaders and greedy, globalizing business, financial and media company elites are determined to continue the steady hollowing out of the US economy and the financing and promotion of the country's adversary. The elites--including the appeasement-prone, dumbbell diplomats at the US State Department--are selling out the country, plain and simple.

It will probably take a major crisis--a mass poisoning of Americans by deadly Chinese products or the launching of an orbiting Chinese nuclear-tipped missile or laser cannon--to persuade the elites to change course. Even then, who knows? The process of submitting to China may be too late to reverse. Rather, the best hope for the US and the rest of the world is an internal crisis--the cracking from within of the Chinese empire (which is actually ruled by the military and not the corrupt Communist Party).

For West, hypocrisy is no shame. At end, such dark mindset is purely evil.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Education achievement

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Medical-malpractice battle gets personal

By Laura Parker, USA TODAYThere are 73,084 working lawyers in Texas. Selina Leewright never thought that being married to one would cost her her job.
But that's why Leewright, a nurse, was fired last summer by Good Shepherd Medical Center in the East Texas city of Longview. In dismissing her, hospital officials praised her nursing skills as "fantastic." But they told her that because her husband, Marty, worked at a law firm that does medical-malpractice litigation, the hospital could not continue to employ her. "I was dumbfounded," Leewright says. "They just assumed that my husband does medical malpractice, which he doesn't at all."

Leewright's firing was a measure of how toxic the battle over medical-malpractice lawsuits has become. Hospital administrators and doctors across the nation, furious over what they see as waves of frivolous lawsuits that have driven up malpractice insurance costs, are striking back against lawyers with hardball tactics that, in some cases, are raising ethical questions.

Some doctors are refusing medical treatment to lawyers, their families and their employees except in emergencies, and the doctors are urging the American Medical Association to endorse that view. Professional medical societies are trying to silence their peers by discouraging doctors from testifying as expert witnesses on behalf of plaintiffs. And a New Jersey doctor who supported malpractice legislation that his colleagues opposed was ousted from his hospital post.

While sharing their peers' anger over malpractice lawsuits, some doctors see such tactics — particularly the refusal of treatment — as contrary to the Hippocratic oath, in which new doctors acknowledge "special obligations to all my fellow human beings."

But Chris Hawk, a surgeon in Charleston, S.C., says the notion of refusing treatment to malpractice lawyers, their family members and associates not only is justified, it's necessary. "This idea may be repulsive," Hawk says. "It's hardball. But it's ethical."

Hawk, 57, says that a doctor's ethical obligation to treat patients applies only to emergency care. "Physicians are not bound to treat everybody who walks through their door," he says.

Doctors and lawyers long have been at odds over malpractice litigation. But soaring malpractice-insurance premiums, which hit doctors in high-risk specialties such as neurosurgery and obstetrics particularly hard, have fueled the debate. For doctors who blame the increases in their premiums on unwarranted lawsuits and large jury awards, the solution is clear: Overhaul the nation's civil litigation system, starting with limits on what jurors can award in damages.

Malpractice lawyers, led by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, counter that rising premiums have more to do with the insurance industry than jury awards. They say tighter regulation of the industry is needed.

The lawyers say that stifling malpractice litigation could deny Americans some of their rights to seek redress in court when doctors make mistakes.

The AMA is backing federal legislation, now stalled in the U.S. Senate, that would cap pain-and-suffering awards against obstetricians and emergency room doctors at $250,000. Meanwhile, the battles continue in state legislatures. All but nine states have restricted medical-malpractice lawsuits in recent years. But the AMA contends that only six states have passed "effective" legislation, meaning laws that cap money awards.

This month in Mississippi, where lawmakers have been at odds over the issue for years, the legislature limited medical-malpractice awards for pain and suffering — as opposed to actual medical bills — to $500,000. The measure was approved amid acrimony that Percy Watson, a lawyer and legislator from Hattiesburg, says was unlike anything he had seen in his 25 years in the state House.

Watson says that at one point he got a letter from an angry doctor he doesn't know, and that the doctor told Watson he would refuse to treat the lawmaker because of his opposition to limiting malpractice awards against doctors.

"But it's not only with this doctor, it's prevalent in other areas in the state," Watson says. "Some of my colleagues in Hattiesburg who were not involved in (malpractice issues) have been refused the services of doctors just because they are lawyers."

In South Carolina, Hawk says he first urged fellow doctors to refuse non-emergency treatment to lawyers, their families and employees in a speech at the state medical association's convention in March.

The state association declined to endorse his proposal. Patricia Westmoreland, a dermatologist and member of the association's board of trustees, says she supports limits on awards and sympathizes with Hawk's frustration. But she disagrees with his approach.

"It flies in the face of just basic honesty and goodness," she says. "It's prejudiced. As a physician, I take an oath to see people and take care of people, and to refuse to take care of a sick person is just anathema to me."

But Hawk wants the AMA to adopt his view as its policy. That seems unlikely — AMA leaders have been silent on the issue — but Hawk plans to argue his case in Chicago this week during the AMA's annual meeting. Hawk says his tactic is "analogous to hitting the lawyers with a 2-by-4. Now we have their attention. Now maybe we can make some progress."

Plaintiffs allegedly blacklisted

The bitter divide between doctors and lawyers has been exposed in a range of ways recently.

Earlier this spring, a Texas radiologist's Web site, DoctorsKnow.Us, set up a national database of patients and their attorneys who have sued for malpractice. The site's stated purpose was to discourage frivolous lawsuits. But patients and their attorneys suggested the site essentially blacklisted some patients from receiving doctors' services.

The site was shut down in March, after news reports detailed difficulties people listed on the site had in getting medical care.

In New Hampshire, Tim Coughlin, president of the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association, recalls an angry confrontation last fall with RickMiller, a neurosurgeon from Portsmouth, N.H. Miller told Coughlin, 40, that because Coughlin lobbied against limits on malpractice suits, Miller would refuse him treatment.

"I don't do medical-malpractice work. I'm just a basic urban lawyer," Coughlin says. "He told me he had made a decision. I told him I thought that was uncalled for. He and I disagree on political matters.

"He's known as the best neurosurgeon on the Sea Coast. If I had a brain situation, I would hope he would operate on me regardless of my position" on malpractice suits. "But he's told me he wouldn't."

Miller describes his position as "firing a shot across (the) bow" of the trial lawyers group. "If Tim Coughlin came into the emergency room with some life-threatening emergency, I wouldn't hesitate to treat him. But if he came into my office because he had a herniated disk and wanted me to take care of him as an elective patient, I would decline to see him."

Miller, who says he has not been sued for malpractice, says he pays $84,151 a year for malpractice insurance. He says that after he paid business costs and taxes last year, his take-home pay was $64,000.

"That's less than my malpractice premium," Miller says. "This puts in perspective how desperate the situation is. Attorneys who choose to speak out and try to derail efforts at meaningful tort reform do so at some risk — that they will not be able to come to the best neurosurgeon in New Hampshire. They'll have to go elsewhere, the same way that patients will have to go elsewhere if neurosurgery is no longer available on the Sea Coast."

The refusal-to-treat tactic has generated the most controversy in the conflict over medical malpractice. But more disturbing to many lawyers are the efforts to silence doctors from testifying as expert witnesses on behalf of plaintiffs:

• In Florida, Tampa General Hospital announced plans in February to revise its employee "code of conduct" by prohibiting staff from testifying on behalf of plaintiffs. (They may testify as witnesses for hospitals and doctors.)

• Also in Florida, three doctors who were sued unsuccessfully for malpractice urged the Florida Medical Association to investigate a California doctor's testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs to "prevent the medical profession from being terrorized ... by similar 'experts.' "

John Fullerton, a San Francisco internist, has responded by suing the Tampa doctors for libel. He claims that he was defamed by statements the trio made in urging a review of his testimony. His lawsuit also alleges conspiracy, witness intimidation and violation of state racketeering laws.

• In Jersey City, the medical staff at Christ Hospital voted to remove George Ciechanowski as chief of staff, according to news accounts, because he backed malpractice legislation that many of his colleagues opposed.

Lawyers decry the refusal to treat lawyers and the efforts to silence physicians. The lawyers say doctors want it both ways: They want the legal limits on malpractice lawsuits, yet have no qualms about filing suits themselves.

When Hawk began his campaign against lawsuits, critics noted that he had filed one after his wife was in a car accident during the mid-1980s. Hawk's insurance company refused to pay the claim because he filed it three days after the legal deadline for doing so had expired, so he sued. A jury awarded his wife $525,000. But an appeals court threw out the case. It said Hawk's suit was moot because he had missed the filing deadline.

"I'm not saying somebody shouldn't have the right to sue," Hawk says. "I'm saying we should ... limit the awards, and in some way make the loser pay so that we don't have a lot of frivolous suits. An automobile accident is rarely a frivolous suit."

'I didn't do anything wrong'

In Texas, Leewright is considering whether to sue the Longview hospital for wrongful termination.

Leewright, 30, was hired on May 29, 2003, and assigned to work in the hospital's nursery. Leewright, whose fluent Spanish helped with Spanish-speaking patients, says she often was called to work extra shifts. "There was a nursing shortage. I wanted them to know I was a team player."

Leewright says she thought the job was going well. Then, on July 16, she was called in to meet with her bosses. She says they praised her nursing skills, but then told her that because her husband is a lawyer, she was being terminated.

A hospital spokeswoman, Victoria Ashworth, citing confidentiality, says "all personnel matters are private and not discussed with outside parties."

Leewright filed a complaint with the Texas Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which did not make a finding on the merits of her case but issued a notice of her right to sue. Documents filed in that case outline the hospital's practices regarding spouses of lawyers.

The hospital, according to one document submitted by its attorney, has an "unwritten practice" not to employ spouses of lawyers who represent plaintiffs in medical malpractice or personal injury lawsuits "because of the perceived likelihood of a conflict of interest."

The profitability of Marty Leewright's law firm provides a financial benefit to his wife, the document says. "That gives her an incentive to pass on confidential information that she obtains as a Good Shepherd employee."

Leewright says the hospital never mentioned its unwritten practice regarding spouses when it interviewed her for the job. She says she did not violate hospital ethics.

"I didn't do anything wrong," she says. "They assume I'm going to be unethical. They assume that I'm kind of sneaky and will try to refer cases. That's absurd."

It took her until November to find work at Longview's only other hospital. Marty Leewright says his wife's experience has been difficult. "All the nursing students know about what's happened to her," he says. "It's just like a cloud that follows her around."

Friday, April 30, 2004

Iraqi torture images 'will damage Britain'


PICTURES of United States troops torturing Iraqi prisoners will damage Britain as well as the US, it was claimed today.

Former foreign secretary Lord Owen said the photographs, which were shown on prime time US TV, had emerged at a "very bad" time.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said today he was "appalled" by the pictures.

No 10 said the actions shown - with Iraqis stripped naked and hooded and being tormented by their captors - were in "direct contravention of all policy under which the coalition operates".

And military experts said the images could bolster support for insurgents who have killed coalition troops and taken civilian prisoners since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Seventeen soldiers have been suspended, including one senior officer, over the abuse. Six soldiers are now facing court martial. The soldiers at a prison outside Baghdad are accused of forcing Iraqi prisoners into acts of sexual humiliation and other abuses.

America’s senior general in Baghdad immediately denounced the actions of the troops. But outraged politicians said today that the damage had already been done.

Lord Owen said: "I hope, I believe, nothing like this happens in the British Army. But there is no joy for us.

"What happens with the Americans of course impacts on us. We are in it together. It hurts us as well. We could have done without it, it is very damaging. You never pull back lost ground."

Tony Blair’s human rights envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd, said that she had been "shocked" by the photographs.

The Labour MP said she had raised the treatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison with officials at the White House, but they had denied there was a problem.

"I made the point that there must be answers, because I found it very difficult to get answers and I was told by a very senior person there: ‘We don’t do this kind of thing’. Clearly, the people in charge did not know this was going on," she said.

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram joined the condemnation, saying: "Such behaviour is unacceptable and very damaging to building confidence in Iraq. We welcome the swift and firm steps taken by the American military authorities to deal with the perpetrators."

Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, whose son Barry served as a Royal Marine in the invasion of Iraq, added: "This is disgraceful and outrageous. You might expect this from Saddam Hussein and his troops, but not from the Americans."

The charges, first announced by the military in March, were documented by photographs taken by guards in the prison.

Brigadier-General Mark Kimmet appealed to the American people to keep faith with their troops in Iraq.

Some of the photographs, and descriptions of others, were broadcast in the US on Wednesday by a CBS television news programme and were verified by military officials. One shows a hooded prisoner standing on a box. Wires were attached to him and he was told that if he fell off the box he would be electrocuted.

One of the soldiers accused of the abuse insisted it was the army’s fault for not training its troops properly in how to treat prisoners. In his diary, Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick said he told senior officers about conditions, but one replied: "I don’t care if he has to sleep standing up."

The programme’s producers said the army also had photographs showing a detainee with wires attached to his genitals and another that showed a dog attacking a prisoner.

Sgt Frederick added: "We’re appalled. These are our fellow soldiers, they represent us and let their fellow soldiers down."

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said last month that many former detainees in Iraq claimed to have been tortured and ill-treated by coalition troops during interrogation.

Meanwhile, American forces have begun withdrawing from the Iraqi city of Fallujah after a month of bloody clashes with rebels.

A new Iraqi force, led by one of Saddam Hussein’s former generals, is expected to move into the city while the US keeps a presence outside Fallujah. Fresh clashes in Fallujah overnight saw US aircraft hit insurgent targets in the city.

Affirmative Action Around the World

Affirmative Action Around the World:
An Empirical Study
by Thomas Sowell
Yale. 231 pp. $28.00
Reviewed by
Carl Cohen

Among contemporary economists and social theorists, one of the most prolific, intellectually independent, and iconoclastic is Thomas Sowell, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. In nearly a half-century’s worth of books and essays, he has explored the cultures of the world and all the nooks and crannies of American society. Enormously learned, wonderfully clear-headed, he sees reality as it is, and flinches at no truth.

Affirmative Action Around the World is exactly what its title announces: an empirical study of what the consequences really are, and really have been, in the five major nations in which "affirmative action"—the term now commonly used to denote ethnic preferences—has been long ensconced: India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and the United States.*

In each case, Sowell’s presentation of the data is instructive and illuminating—and disturbing. Some themes recur: wherever ethnic preferences have been instituted, they have led to intergroup hostility, dishonesty, and further proliferation in spite of manifest failure. Reflecting on Sowell’s data, I also observe that each nation’s experience offers a powerful lesson with respect to one particular aspect of the results produced. Here follow five painful lessons.

In India, ethnic preferences have been established longer than in any other nation. "Positive discrimination" goes back to British rule, and was built into the Indian constitution in 1947. Originally intended to last for only twenty years, the preferences have been extended repeatedly in time. Originally devised to benefit only "untouchables" (a now forbidden term, replaced by "scheduled castes" or "Dalits"), they have been repeatedly expanded in reach. The benefits are no longer regarded as transitory; the beneficiaries, including members of many other "backward classes," now comprise more than three-quarters of the Indian population.

Preferential quotas have been limited by Indian courts to 50 percent of the available places at universities and elsewhere; but making use of those quotas requires "complementary resources" of education that the intended beneficiaries simply do not have. Therefore, the quotas for the most seriously deprived in India often go unfilled. On the other hand, quotas for "other backward classes" rarely go unfilled. Upshot: the great majority of the reserved places go to those who deserve them least.

Only deep inner change would enable members of the beneficiary groups to utilize the places preferentially reserved for them. But, as Sowell points out, there is "no political mileage to be made by telling people to change themselves." Expedience rules; Indian politicians buy support by confirming preferences and extending them to more and more ethnic groups. Enlargement is the easiest course.

What then do we learn from the Indian experience? Race preference does not wind down; it winds up. Proliferation is the rule.

Next, Malaysia, where Chinese laborers were first brought to the peninsula to work the rubber plantations, Indian laborers to work the tin mines. Both have become substantial ethnic minorities, with Malays remaining the great majority. The three groups are quite distinct.

The Chinese, adopting a frugal style and investing heavily in the education of their children, pulled themselves from the plantations and built businesses across the country; they have come to dominate retail establishments in Malaysia, of which they owned 85 percent by 1980. Corporate ownership by Chinese has also soared. Chinese incomes are double those of Malays.

In 1965, Malaysians willingly divested themselves of a great mass of powerful Chinese by expelling Singapore, which became a separate country and remains very largely a Chinese city—and greatly prosperous. But, although the expulsion of Singapore made the Malay majority politically secure, and somewhat reduced its economic domination by the Chinese minority, it did not stop the intellectual advance of the Chinese who remained. In 1969, more than half the officers in the Malaysian army were ethnic Chinese; as long as university admissions were determined by examination results, only 20 percent of the places went to Malays, and most of the rest to ethnic Chinese.

The majority, competing unsuccessfully, had to be protected. The Malay government set out to achieve racial balance in employment, giving formal preferences to Malays in hiring. But there seemed no alternative to continuing reliance on the better-educated Chinese and Indian minorities in fields where their technical skills were needed. And so admission to universities was altered as well. Group membership was emphasized over individual performance, and, to increase the number of Malays yet further, the Malay language became the only medium of instruction in schools as well as in universities.

The ethnic preferences that have pervaded Malaysia in recent decades were not designed to pull an oppressed minority from the depths; their purpose was to protect the relatively less competent majority from the intellectual and economic advances of more competent ethnic minorities. What, then, do we learn from Malaysia? We learn that the inferior performance of some ethnic groups is not always a consequence of discrimination against them. On the contrary, even the imposition of discriminatory advantages favoring a majority cannot obscure the fact that some groups prove less competent than others.

Sri Lanka, in the second half of the 20th century, experienced a steep social deterioration whose exact causes are difficult to specify. What began as ethnic tension between the Sinhalese majority in the south and the Tamil minority in the north became bloody slaughter. The substantial preferences given to the Sinhalese (awarded, as in Malaysia, to protect a less competent majority) certainly played a role in exacerbating these tensions.

In Sri Lanka, group rights had become a tool to win Sinhalese votes. The more recently arrived Tamils, clustered in the highlands, were flatly disenfranchised. To overcome inferior majority performance, group preferences were introduced in university admissions. Even so, the edge of Tamils in the sciences and other intellectual endeavors remained substantial, and so preference next took the form of race-norming. University admissions were based not on actual scores but on each applicant’s "standardized score," determined by his performance relative to the performance of other students in the same ethnic group. When that device proved insufficient as well, "district quotas" were introduced (a variant of what is done today in Texas), whereby admissions were allocated by geographic region. Since Sinhalese and Tamils were concentrated in different districts, this was simply a backhand method of establishing ethnic quotas.

Protests against preferences in Sri Lanka mounted but were unsuccessful. Concluding that only in a separate nation could their success be recognized, the Tamils pressed for secession, first with militancy, and then with bloodshed. The once-tranquil island was afflicted with widespread pillage, murder, rape.

Deliberately exacerbating racial tensions for the sake of political gain—we learn from the case of Sri Lanka—promotes hatred of a kind and of a degree almost impossible to reverse. What begins with race preference ends with race riots.

And then there is Nigeria, a nation encompassing a vast array of diverse ethnic groups and regions—largely Islamic in the north, largely Christian in the south. Before colonial rule it was never a country; after colonial rule, the changing governments of Nigeria have regularly practiced favoritism toward one or another of the scores upon scores of tribes and ethnic groups.

Preferences and quotas are justified in Nigeria by the demand, expressly formulated in the constitution of 1979, that national activities should "reflect the federal character of the country." This "federal character" principle has been extended to school admissions, to promotions in school, and even to membership on the national soccer team. Every activity must "look like Nigeria." Intergroup tensions have become very sharp; almost every policy issue becomes a matter of racial dispute accompanied by charges of ethnic corruption. These disputes often turn bitter, and become fights.

Whence the rancor? Economic disparities do not account for it. Sowell points out that in the 1990’s, when the Katafs, formerly lagging behind the Hausa, closed the gap between the two groups, relations became more polarized, not less. The slightest disagreement has tended to explode into violence, and the same sensitivity appears among other groups as well. Violence is produced, it seems, by the politicization of ethnic differences; and that politicization commonly takes the form of preferential treatment.

One byproduct of this strife has been the creation of more states within the country. To reduce discord, separate ethnic enclaves have been carved out and given formal status. Thus, having given rise to a deadly spoils system, ethnic heterogeneity is mitigated by a gerrymandered homogeneity. The lesson from Nigeria? When racial balance is advanced by granting preferences that are deeply resented, diversity produces not greater racial harmony but greater racial conflict.

One thread runs through all four of these case histories. We are often invited to suppose, almost as an axiom, that every ethnic group is possessed of equal talent with every other and will therefore, if given equal chances, perform with equivalent competence. Disparate numbers by group (in employment or education) are taken to be a sure sign of oppression, and proportionality thus becomes the unquestioned standard of fair play. This thinking is the product of an egalitarianism ungrounded in empirical inquiry.

The reality, driven home by Sowell’s excruciating reports, is very different. In fact, for a host of reasons, some of which we know and some of which we do not know, some of which spring from malign oppression and many of which do not, ethnic and racial groups behave differently, perform differently, learn differently, and exhibit greatly different talents and temperaments. That is not crude stereotyping; it is plain fact. Justice will not be done if this fact is denied or goes unrecognized. In giving us this great lesson with the aid of overwhelming evidence and a scrupulously dispassionate mind, Thomas Sowell is our finest teacher.

The fifth of the five great nations dealt with in this book is the United States of America. The appropriate lesson(s) here? All of the above.

Carl Cohen is professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan. His most recent book is a debate with James P. Sterba, Affirmative Action and Racial Preference (Oxford).

Friday, April 16, 2004

Who Needs English?

Who Needs English? (in Asia)

As South Korea's economy grows closer to China's, more people are
studying Chinese. For some, the choice is a rejection of the U.S.
By Barbara Demick, Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — After years of slogging through her English lessons,
stumbling over impossible pronunciations and baffling rules of
syntax, Chae Chang Eun came up with a better idea.

The 33-year-old science teacher switched to Chinese.

It wasn't that the language was easier. But studying Chinese felt
like a homecoming, a return to a culture and way of thinking closer
to Chae's roots as a South Korean. Besides, with China on its way to
surpassing the United States as South Korea's largest trading
partner, she figured its language would be more advantageous in
landing a job in the business world.

"When America was leader of the world, we all studied English," Chae
said. "Now that China is rising to the top, the interest is swaying
toward the Chinese language."

South Korea is known as one of the United States' staunchest allies
and is host to 37,000 U.S. troops. But in what might be a sign of
things to come, China is the object of infatuation at the moment.

The phenomenon isn't limited to South Korea. Chinese studies are
booming throughout Asia. At the largest chain of private language
schools in Japan, enrollment in Chinese in 2003 was double that in
2002 — displacing French as the second most popular language after

For most students, the motives are strictly mercenary: They believe
that command of Chinese will give them an edge in the job market,
and they don't develop much of a corresponding interest in Chinese
culture. Some study Chinese — once scorned by a society intent on
Westernizing — as a conscious gesture of rejection of the United

"The interest in Chinese does reflect some antipathy to U.S.
hegemony and arrogance," said Suh Jin Young, an international
relations professor at Korea University in Seoul.

In the last two years, half a dozen private Chinese schools have
opened in downtown Seoul, and posters for new ones are plastered
throughout the subway system. In December, prestigious Seoul
National University announced that Chinese had replaced English as
the most popular major among liberal arts students. The country's
largest electronics companies recently started offering free Chinese
lessons for their employees in anticipation of expanded operations
in China.

Since 2000, the number of South Koreans studying in China has more
than doubled. There were 35,000 as of the end of last year, making
South Koreans the largest nationality of foreign students in China.
Meanwhile, the number taking the entry exam for Chinese universities
has increased threefold, according to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul.

At the same time, student visa applications to the United States are
down about 10% this year from the year before, a U.S. diplomat said.
He attributes it to a combination of tighter security requirements
and what he calls "the competing pole from China."

"People are sending their teenagers to China to learn Chinese. They
are really crazy about China," said Nam Young Sook, an economist
with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. "After
all the hype about English, now everybody wants to learn Chinese."

In Thailand, so many students are taking Chinese that one university
official calls it an epidemic of "China fever."

"They see that the future belongs to China," said Prapat Thepcatree,
director of Thammasat University's Center for Policy Studies in

Prapat says it is not unlike the rage for learning Japanese in the
1980s, when Japan's economic might was at its zenith, but he
believes that anti-American sentiment is also a factor. As a matter
of simple practicality, more Chinese tourists are visiting Thailand
while Westerners, fearful of terrorism, are staying home. The tilt
toward China comes at a time when American policymakers are
increasingly fretting about the U.S. image abroad.

"Net favorable sentiment toward China has since caught up with — and
on a number of occasions even surpassed — that for the U.S.," warned
a report on South Korea released this month by the Rand Corp., a
Santa Monica-based think tank. "China's growing economic importance
to South Korea and its increasingly important role in influencing
North Korean behavior could portend more favorable attitudes toward
China, possibly even at the expense of the United States."

Scott Snyder, a senior associate with the Asia Foundation think tank
in Washington and until recently head of its Seoul office, said the
U.S.-declared war against terrorism has alienated Asian allies not
because they necessarily oppose it, but because they believe it is
not relevant to their concerns.

"The Chinese are coming and essentially saying, 'Let's get rich
together,' and that is a more compelling message for Asian
partners," Snyder said.

At the moment, with the U.S. and China basking in relatively warm
relations, South Koreans do not have to choose between the two. But
they may in the future — and it is not a given that they would side
with the United States.

"We have to ask ourselves, at what point does South Korea's economic
relationship with China impinge on the U.S. alliance? Can we
imagine, for example, that South Korea would vote for a U.S.-
introduced human rights resolution condemning China?" Snyder asked.

For South Koreans, the simple fact of the matter is that China is
much closer and much bigger than the U.S.

China has been the dominant foreign power for most of Korea's
recorded history, and many aspects of Korean language and culture —
from chopsticks to the Confucian family structure — are derived from
China. Although South Koreans have their own alphabet, they often
use Chinese characters for names and in newspapers.

Historians say that the close relationship is natural and that the
half-century estrangement during the Cold War was the anomaly. China
intervened on behalf of the Communist North in the 1950-53 Korean
War, and relations with the South were severed. Ties were
reestablished in 1992, and since then, the relationship has

Last year China surpassed the United States as South Korea's largest
export market. Bilateral trade between China and South Korea was
worth $63.2 billion last year and is expected to reach $100 billion
within the next year or two, according to the Chinese Embassy in

Yang Houlon, deputy chief of mission at the embassy, said that China
is the biggest importer of South Korean products, the biggest
destination for direct foreign investment and the biggest tourist
destination, with about 2 million South Koreans visiting annually.

South Koreans, meanwhile, make up the largest population of
foreigners in China, many of them students of the language.

"The Chinese economy is growing, so demand for Chinese speakers is
increasing. These are simple market rules," Yang said. "Chinese and
Koreans share a lot of values. It is easy for us to communicate."

Virtually all of South Korea's top corporations — Hyundai Motors,
LG, Samsung and SK Corp. among them — have made significant
investments in China in the last few years. Tsingtao, just a
commuter flight across the Yellow Sea from Seoul, has become
a "little Korea" of sorts, with about 4,000 South Korean companies
having set up shop.

Companies that a few years back were attracted by the vast reservoir
of cheap labor are now setting up research-and-development
facilities to take advantage of Chinese technology and to better
understand the Chinese consumer market.

"You can pay $100 or $200 per month for a well-educated scientist,"
economist Nam said.

"Whatever business you're in — whether you run a small drugstore or
build golf courses, you have got to think about doing business with
China," said Kim Jo Han, a 57-year-old textile company manager who
said he was studying Chinese because of his company's plant in

Until recently, South Koreans studying Chinese were primarily
scholars, not unlike Westerners who learn Greek or Latin. There was
little interest in the modern Chinese language.

"People would ask me, 'Why are you teaching Chinese?' Even if I was
sitting on a bus reading a book in Chinese, people would give me
funny looks," said Song Jae Bok, a teacher at the Koryo Chinese
Language Institute.

Eighty percent of the students at the school in downtown Seoul are
women, mostly looking for jobs in trading companies. One reason for
the boom in private Chinese institutes is that Chinese is not
offered in most public schools. English is still the mandatory
foreign language. Virtually all South Koreans taking Chinese lessons
have also studied English, although many have had difficulty
mastering it.

"Somehow students in the Chinese department are not interested in
English. It seems they did not like to learn English and they see
Chinese as an alternative," said Seo Kyong Ho, associate dean of
humanities at Seoul National University and one of the few academics
who is fluent in both Chinese and English.

Chinese popular culture has not made dramatic inroads into South
Korea — there are no signs that it will push aside the influence of
Hollywood. But South Korean music, soap operas, film and fashion are
increasingly popular in China.

Chae, the science teacher, started Chinese lessons four years ago
after reading a book predicting the rise of China. It was something
of an epiphany, and through the language she started exploring the
Chinese roots of Korean culture that had been forgotten in recent

"Whereas the American influence is only 50 years old — since the
U.S. military occupation of 1953 — Chinese culture goes back 5,000
years. We just didn't realize it," Chae said.

She also came to support China with the belief that it could be an
important counterbalance to the United States should the Bush
administration consider preemptive strikes against North Korea.

"There are a lot of us who feel that by befriending the Chinese we
can prevent the outbreak of war on the peninsula," Chae said.

Not all of the students have as positive an attitude toward China.
In fact, a few say they need to learn the Chinese language to
protect their country from being swallowed by China's rapid economic

"We don't really trust the Chinese," said Kim Min Joo, one of the
few students at the Koryo Institute in their 50s. She complained
that some of her young classmates are naive when it comes to China.

"A lot of them have rushed into studying Chinese because it's a
fad," she said, "without knowing much about China, its history or
its system of government."

Jinna Park of The Times' Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The New SAT: College Admissions Test Gets Major Overhaul

Don’t let the sweeping changes to the SAT exam catch your child by surprise. Here’s what the College Board has planned for the SAT: new writing and math tests, a new way of scoring and a change in how scores for students with disabilities are reported.

By Michael Mullaly,

Beginning in March 2005, a lot more students will score 1600 on the SAT. Unfortunately, the perfect score will rise to 2400 because the College Board is adding a writing test worth up to 800 points. There also will be significant changes to the verbal and mathematics sections.
America’s oldest college admission exam is being revamped for the first time since 1994, largely because the University of California threatened to drop the test as an admission requirement. The revised SAT will be more closely aligned with today’s high school curriculum and will address concerns among employers and university professors that the quality of student writing has declined.

In addition, after September 2003, the College Board will no longer disclose on score reports whether a student was allowed additional time to complete the test because of a disability.

What changes will occur in the verbal section?
What changes are being made to the math section?
What will the new SAT writing test be like?
What’s different about the score reports of students with disabilities?
What other changes are planned for the SAT?
Internet resources

What changes will occur in the verbal section?
The revised SAT verbal test will include a series of paragraph-long passages, each followed by a single multiple-choice question. These will replace analogy questions, which test a student’s ability to discern the relationship between words. (One example: “attorney” is to “client” as “physician” is to ______. The correct answer is “patient.”) Despite being a rigorous test of verbal reasoning, analogies are being eliminated because they are not a part of most high school curriculums. The test will be renamed “critical reading” to reflect its new emphasis.

What changes are being made to the math section?
The revised SAT math test will contain questions that require knowledge of Algebra II-level material, including matrices, absolute values, rational equations and inequalities, radical equations and geometric notations. Most students take Algebra II during their third year of high school. The current SAT tests only concepts from Algebra I and geometry. In addition, quantitative comparison questions will no longer appear on the SAT. These test items ask students to compare two mathematical expressions and determine which represents the larger quantity.

What will the new SAT writing test be like?
The new SAT writing test will be extremely similar to the current SAT II writing exam that students applying to more selective colleges are sometimes required to take. The one-hour test will include:

An essay (for which about 20 minutes will be alloted) on an assigned, but general, topic

A multiple-choice grammar section in which students specify the part of a given sentence that contains an error

A multiple-choice syntax section in which students select the most well-constructed sentence or the best-organized paragraph from several options

Two expert readers will score each student essay on a scale of 1 to 6, with higher scores denoting better performance. A third reader will be consulted if the experts’ scores differ by more than two points. The College Board is considering making copies of the essays available to college admission offices.

What’s different about the score reports of students with disabilities?
The College Board currently flags the SAT score reports of students who were granted additional time to take the test because of a disability. This practice will cease after September 2003.

This policy has raised the concern that some parents may exaggerate the need for their children to receive testing accommodations in order to secure additional time. While this is a legitimate concern, the College Board requires parents to provide professional documentation of a medically established disability before it considers granting special accommodations.

Reasons that students may be granted accommodations on the SAT include impaired vision or hearing, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), learning disabilities, physical handicaps and “certain medical conditions.” It is important to realize that there are other accommodations besides additional testing time, such as a different location or special equipment. Extra time is granted only when a student’s disability presents a direct need for additional time, or when the test is given in a nonstandard format (in Braille, for example).

If you have a child who may qualify for special accommodations, be sure to initiate the application process well in advance – ideally, during the spring before the first year in which your child intends to take an SAT test. All the necessary paperwork should be available at your child’s school. For additional information about testing accommodations, click here.

What other changes are planned for the SAT?
Because the new writing section will be scored on the same 200 to 800 scale used for the reading and math sections, the maximum SAT score will increase from 1600 to 2400. However, the College Board will calibrate the tests so that scores on the new critical reading and math sections can be directly compared to those on the current SAT verbal and math sections.

The duration of the test will increase by 30 minutes to 3½ hours. The College Board expects the price of the SAT to rise by $10 or $12 from its current cost of $26. Fee waivers will continue to be available to those who qualify.

Critics believe there is hidden agenda behind such change.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A Tense Divide in Russia's Far East
Chinese Immigrants Face Anger and Envy of Northern Neighbors, Who Fear a Takeover

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 29, 2003; Page A09

KHABAROVSK, Russia -- In one stall of the teeming marketplace, Chinese merchants with chopsticks pick at plastic containers of noodles. Across the way, a gaggle of aging Chinese men hunch over their mah-jongg game. A loudspeaker blares out announcements in Chinese as other Chinese sellers collect wads of rubles for plastic sandals, compact disc players and leopard-print bikinis.

Outside the market's entrance sits a different group of men who are playing cards and grousing. They are Russians working as gypsy cab drivers -- men who once had it better. There is a former engineer, a former teacher and several former military men.

Look at that Chinese with the fancy foreign car, grumbles one, who gives his name only as Sergei. "They'll take over and invade our country without weapons. Eventually, they will kill us."

The tense divide between Russia and China is on display every day at the market here in Khabarovsk, the Russian Far East's capital which overlooks the picturesque Amur River that for much of its course separates the two giant powers. The "River Love," as one author called it, in fact bisects a region of hate -- or at least suspicion, envy and fear.

The Chinese have been slipping across the border for the last dozen years. At first, they were a welcome flow of low-wage migrant workers willing to do the menial construction and farming jobs that did not interest Russians in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse. But as the years wore on, the Chinese began putting down roots here and starting their own businesses. The Russians who once hired them now often find themselves as employees.

Today, according to regional experts, at least 200,000 Chinese live in Russia's Far East, a region roughly 5,000 miles from Moscow, and many more stay for long stretches of time. They have helped transform the towns along the border in their own image. In Nakhodka, on the Pacific coast, a shopping center built to resemble the Great Wall beckons customers. The Chinese who have settled in Vladivostok, once closed to foreigners as home to the Soviet fleet, have taken to calling the city by its old Chinese name, Haishenwei

Here in Khabarovsk, nine Chinese restaurants, two Chinese hotels and 300 other Chinese businesses have opened, while ferryboats carry shuttle traders with packs of cheap Chinese consumer goods each day to and from Fuyuan, on the other side of the border.

The demographic arithmetic helps explain the tension. On the Russian side of the border is vast, empty space, rich with natural resources and occupied by a dwindling population of 7 million Russians. On the Chinese side is a bursting-at-the-seams society desperate for breathing space and raw materials to feed its modernizing economy. About 77 million Chinese live in three provinces that border their northern neighbor .

"Nature doesn't tolerate emptiness," said Sergei Drozdov, head of passport and visa services in Khabarovsk. "When there's a full bottle there and it's empty here, at some point the bottle will burst and spill over to here."

President Vladimir Putin warned a couple of years ago that if Russians in the Far East did not do more to regenerate their region and economy, they would all be speaking Chinese or some other Asian language. Local officials decry Chinese men marrying Russian women. Some locals suspect the Chinese of poisoning Russian rivers.

"When things don't work, they all scream, 'The wolves are coming, the wolves are coming' -- and the wolves are Chinese," said Chen Gopin, the Chinese consul general in Khabarovsk. "This isn't even hidden anymore. They all talk about the Chinese expansion." For the record, he disavowed any aspirations of a Chinese takeover of the Far East as "nonsense."

Li Tianzeng, 22, who arrived two years ago, complained: "They don't want to be friends. Why should they be afraid?"

Russia and China have a long history of tension along their 2,200-mile border. In the mid-19th century, after hundreds of years of expansion and conflict, Russia secured much of the Far East by treaty with the Chinese emperor and claimed control of the port city of Vladivostok in 1860 as a bulwark against China. In the 1930s, during Joseph Stalin's rule of terror, the Russians forced out many of the Chinese who had been living alongside Russians for decades.

For a time following the Communist takeover in China in 1949, the two powers enjoyed a closer relationship. But they fell out in the 1960s and fought border clashes. Barbed wire fences went up along the border and Russian guards would smooth out the ground so they would see footprints of intruding Chinese.

Russians have long expressed worry about Chinese designs on their land. Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping were both quoted as saying that the Russians took too much territory more than a century ago. Mao reportedly even said Vladivostok and Khabarovsk by right should be Chinese.

"This is a very old question in our history," said German Dudchenko, a Russian scholar and co-author of a book on ethnic migration to the Far East.

What makes it fresh again has been the arrival of Chinese immigrants in recent years. Russian leaders have responded alternately with open arms and clenched fists. They agreed to visa-free travel to encourage trade but then imposed new restrictions on Chinese trying to live here permanently.

Chinese say that Russian police regularly demand to see their documents, and insist on bribes even if the papers are in order. "If you don't have a passport, the police treat you badly," said Wei Zeze, 42, a merchant who has lived in Russia for 10 years. "If you do have a passport, he looks at it and says, 'This is no good, you need to pay a fine.' " Such fines can run from 500 to 2,000 rubles, or $16 to $65.

The more successful the Chinese become, the more extensive the attention. Li Kai, 36, a former teacher who runs a trading firm with ventures like a Chinese restaurant and hotel, may be one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Khabarovsk. At his restaurant, Eastern Dragon, most employees and customers are Russians and the menu is filled with meat and potato dishes. Like many Chinese, he has adopted a Russian name, Valentin.

But his attempts to assimilate seemed to fall short early on the morning of May 20, when a squadron of government inspectors burst in to his restaurant. One of them carried a video camera. Footage showing spoiling potatoes was later shown on government television and portrayed as the type of food Li was serving diners.

"We lost a lot of customers," he lamented. "Maybe I crossed somebody. The authorities here, if they work on order, it's really hard for us. We don't feel any security from the state."

Many top Russian officials bemoan such harassment, saying they understand how important good relations are. "All our political leaders, all our bureaucrats keep saying we have to have relations with China," said Viktor Larin, director of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography at the Far East branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "But their concrete actions very often are directed at limiting the Chinese presence here."

Maxim Tarasov, a China specialist who works as an aide to the vice governor in Khabarovsk, acknowledged the police shakedowns and said steps have been taken to stop them. "The response was the guilty ones were found and that it would never happen again," said Tarasov, who has a Chinese calendar scroll mounted in his office. "Of course this kind of thing happens. We are trying to struggle against it."

Officials scoffed at the fears expressed by ordinary Russians here. "If the Chinese wanted to take over Primorye, they could populate us in two and a half hours," said Sergei Pushkarev, head of immigration for neighboring Primorye province. "We're not going back to the Iron Curtain. There's no way back."

In the face of often open hostility, Chinese as well as the Japanese and South Koreans living here largely stick to themselves. While virtually everyone drives a right-hand-drive Japanese car in the Russian Far East, the streets have fewer Asian faces on them than, say, San Francisco or Seattle. Even on one recent night, when a Japanese bank put on a fireworks display along the riverfront to celebrate the opening of its first branch in Khabarovsk, the crowd was predominantly Russian.

Russians have seen their trade grow with China -- exports to China from Khabarovsk alone increased from $82.4 million in 1997 to $628 million last year, according to an official. Yet because the Russian exports consist largely of timber, oil and other raw materials, many Russians fear the Chinese are simply stripping the Russian side of natural resources.

Russians here grow particularly sour as they look across the river and see rapidly developing Chinese cities with gleaming new buildings, radiating the wealth that some Russians are certain China has been stealing from them.

"In the past, Chinese were considered cheap labor and Russian employers tried to get as many of them as they could," said Alexei Mortsev, 30. Mortsev is a former Russian navy sailor from Fokina, a city between Vladivostok and Nakhodka where submarines were built and that is still closed to outsiders. "Now the Russians are cheaper labor. Russians aren't owners anymore."

Lyudmila, 65, a retired teacher, groused about the Chinese as she lugged a couple of sacks of Chinese goods out of the market here. "They're behaving as masters of the land," she said. Lyudmila said she was convinced that Khabarovsk's days as a Russian city were numbered. "Why did we warm up the place for them? They're building their economy on us."

And the men who work as gypsy cab drivers continue with their card games and sullen grievances. Slava, who spent 20 years in the Soviet navy and who, like the others, would not give a last name, said it was time to take action. "They have to be kicked out because Russian Ivans should work this land," he said. If not, he added, "soon we're going to be refugees."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company


Selling Off Siberia
Why China should purchase the Russian Far East
By Kim Iskyan
Posted Monday, July 28, 2003, at 1:52 PM PT

Click for larger map

Seven million people live on the frozen resource-rich taiga of Russia's Far East, a region nearly as large as the contiguous United States. Roughly 1.3 billion Chinese are packed like pickles next door, where corruption, spiraling unemployment, environmental disaster, and growing rural unrest are taking the luster off the Chinese economic miracle. Unfortunately for China's dire need for new demographic and economic horizons, Russia isn't eager to share its chilly sandbox with the neighbors. The struggle between Dr. Malthus and Doctor Zhivago threatens the balance of power in the Far East. But economics—rather than a Tom Clancy-style showdown—will likely decide the winner.

If the Earth's territory were divvied up according to demographic need and by potential for economic development, China would play Pac-Man at the expense of the Russian Far East. Four time zones wide, the RFE extends from the Bering Sea—a few miles from Alaska—in the northeast, to the Sea of Japan in the southeast, to China in the south, and Siberia to the west. The 100 million inhabitants of the RFE's Chinese neighbor, the Northeast Provinces (also called Manchuria), live in an area that is roughly one-eighth the size of the RFE.

The RFE's poor manufacturing base, crumbling physical infrastructure, high transportation costs, and small natural markets discourage local enterprise. The perversions of Soviet economics were accentuated in the RFE, resulting in economic dislocation even more severe than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Moscow's make-work, value-destructive factories that struggled to survive after the command economy collapsed at least had a natural local market of millions of Muscovites. But after Soviet subsidies ended, similar facilities situated on RFE Frozen Plain No. 948,373 had a more difficult time getting raw materials—and selling their shoddy goods to markets thousands of kilometers away. On another front, periodic power shortages plunge large swaths of the RFE into Arctic darkness every winter—an eight-month-long exercise in frostbite that makes North Dakota seem balmy by comparison. Tiny cadres of progressive businesspeople who have managed to unlearn the lessons of 70 years of Soviet-style communism have to battle local politicians who set the Russian standard for incompetence and corruption. The RFE is Russia's Wild West, but post-Soviet Russia doesn't have the patience, time, manpower, or money to wait for Manifest Destiny to take hold—nor to exploit the RFE's superabundance of natural resources, including timber, oil and gas, minerals, and fish. It's no wonder that the region's population has declined by 10 percent over the past decade.

China—and Manchuria in particular—has its own set of problems. Overpopulation, resource misallocation, and twisted economic incentives that are a result of the Chinese capitalist experiment are pressuring economic growth, particularly in the inland areas. According to the Economist, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has projected that unemployment could rise to 15 percent (compared with an official rate of less than 4 percent), with comparatively underdeveloped inland areas hit the hardest. The shuttering of state-owned enterprises throughout China—and especially in parts of Manchuria—part of the painful process of dismantling the infrastructure of the state economy, has resulted in widespread labor unrest. Private companies and rural enterprise have failed to pick up the employment slack: Arable land is scarce and exhausted, and land loss has accelerated as aquifers have dried up, resulting in declining grain harvests. The absence of a political safety valve has raised concerns that rural unrest could derail China's slow economic liberalization process.

The endless horizons of the RFE would create new opportunities for land ownership for tens of millions of unemployed Chinese rural dwellers. Unlike Russia, China has the ingrained entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the incentive and cash, to make the best of the Russian Far East. The RFE's natural resource wealth—especially oil and gas on Sakhalin—would provide Beijing with a significant measure of energy-security comfort. Moving in on Vladivostok, Russia's only temperate Pacific port, would at once end Russian trade in the Pacific; terminate any lingering relevance for Russia's Pacific navy; and enable China to pose an immediate threat to Japan. Russia's focus, though, long ago shifted west, just as its influence in East Asia has long been on the wane.

China's designs on the Russian Far East have strong historical roots. China controlled most of what is now the RFE until the 1850s, when Russia took advantage of China's preoccupation with the Opium Wars to take control of a large swath of the area. A few additional land grabs, followed by a prolonged series of pogroms and deportations, meant that by 1937 Russia had effectively eradicated the Chinese presence in the RFE. But China has subsequently been cagey about recognizing the treaties that resulted in the confiscation of its territory and unwilling to definitively admit defeat.

China is already hip-deep into a stealth economic invasion of the RFE. The region is heavily dependent on Chinese imports for its food supplies and consumable items. The vast distances between Russia's economic center and the RFE have meant that the area frequently looks south, rather than west, for economic opportunity. Anecdotally, the Chinese presence in markets, restaurants, real estate, and investment throughout the RFE is significant; according to the U.S. government's Commercial Service, China is one of the three largest foreign trade partners of at least five of the nine administrative regions of Russia's Far East Federal District. Wildly imprecise estimates of the Chinese population in the RFE range between 100,000 to an improbable 10 million, on the back of illegal immigration facilitated by the sievelike nature of the 2,700-mile border between the two countries. In July 2000, intelligence provider forecasted that the Chinese could become the RFE's dominant ethnic group by 2020; it later warned that the Chinese government's crackdown on domestic crime gangs, and the criminal opportunities offered by the untamed nature of the RFE, compounded by the incompetence and corruption of Russian law enforcement, was leading to the dramatic expansion of Chinese criminal activities in the RFE.

The conflicted xenophobia that characterizes much of Russia's attitude toward foreigners is exacerbated when it comes to the "Chinese question," as RFE residents delicately term it. The RFE welcomes Chinese investment and tourism but fears the loss of local jobs and the RFE's natural wealth flowing across the border. Russian vendors periodically protest the encroachment of Chinese sellers in local markets, and Russian authorities often treat visiting Chinese with the heavy hand normally reserved for dark-skinned people in Moscow. The Russian parliament confirmed the country's anti-Chinese credentials (and allowed xenophobia to trump greed) in December 2002, when it strongly encouraged the China National Petroleum Corp. to withdraw from a privatization auction for Slavneft, at the time Russia's seventh-largest oil producer. CNPC had indicated that it was willing to pay $1.3 billion (or 75 percent) more than what turned out to be the winning (Russian) bid.

Still, for Moscow, the RFE is a distant underperforming colony that is gradually slipping into economic and demographic irrelevance. China needs an outlet for simmering rural unrest, and it has historically had designs on the Russian Far East. Admittedly, the likely difficulties of negotiating a fair price (the $2.5 trillion suggested by a usually sane Russian legislator as Russia's price for turning over the disputed Kurile Islands to Japan suggests that Moscow would aim high) is one barrier to the transaction. And Vladimir Putin would have a spot of trouble trying to convince the Russian electorate that selling off the motherland's crown jewels is a good thing

But a Far East version of the Louisiana Purchase—the Siberian Bargain, to take a bit of geographical license—would allow Moscow to get rid of its Far Eastern headache and raise some cash to see it through the next dip in commodity prices, and it would pave the way for China to buy a few more decades in its capitalist experiment. Occasionally, economic rationality prevails. Might Russia and China see the (snow-blinding) light?