Economist 11/4/15

  1. EVER since he was elected president in 2008, Ma Ying-jeou has sought to improve Taiwan’s long-rocky relations with China. On November 7th in Singapore the world will see the culmination of these efforts, when the Taiwanese leader will meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.. It will be the first meeting between the two countries’ leaders since the Communists’ victory in China’s civil war in 1949. Especially during Mr Ma’s second term as president, many Taiwanese grew increasingly unhappy over a flurry of agreements with China, 23 in all, promoting greater economic integration across the strait. Last year hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, in anti-trade protests led by students.Mr Ma has never been wholly trusted to stand up for the de facto independence that most Taiwanese treasure in the face of China’s insistence on reunification.n a veiled threat to Ms Tsai, Mr Xi himself has urged “high vigilance” against Taiwanese splittists. A sweeping national security law passed in July included the responsibility of “fellow citizens in Taiwan” to protect China’s sovereignty and the cause of unification.
  2. AHMED CHALABI’S downfall had been declared so many times that Iraqis are struggling to believe that the end of his extraordinary career has occurred through natural rather than political causes.In 1989 he then fled Jordan in the boot of a prince’s car, accused of cooking the books of the kingdom’s second bank, Petra. Resurrecting himself as the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, a CIA-financed opposition front, he fled Kurdistan during Saddam Hussein’s brief offensive on the Western-protected enclave in the mid-1990s.And yet since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, he has been one of Baghdad’s constants. Unlike other exiles, who fled back abroad when militias overran the country, he stayed put, re-establishing the role his family had performed under the monarchy as overseer of Iraq’s finances.Admirers credit him with finessing the country’s budget, despite a plummeting oil price and the soaring cost of the war against the jihadists of Islamic State.Until his fall from America’s grace, he had been the neocons’ favourite Iraqi.Pentagon officials rushed to blame him for feeding them the false testimony of Iraq’s stash of weapons of mass destruction that served as their justification for war. Even so, he proved he could still deploy his knack for reinvention without his American patrons.
  3. Israeli and American oilmen believe they have discovered a bonanza in this most inconvenient of sites- Golan Heights.Veterans of Israel’s energy sector are sceptical. Despite many optimistic starts, only two small oilfields in Israel have ever been commercially exploited. The indications are that the Golan field is of a different magnitude. But since there is little experience anywhere of drilling for oil under once-volcanically-active areas, it will take more comprehensive work to determine whether oil can be extracted profitably.Israel’s decision in 1981 to annex the Golan caused a diplomatic crisis with the United States. The Heights are still regarded internationally as illegally-occupied Syrian territory.An influential group is now lobbying Israel’s government to take advantage of the chaos in Syria and demand international recognition of its control of 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) on the Golan.
  4. IT MIDNIGHT on June 30th, the super-accurate clocks provided by America’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology (whose timekeeping can be seen by anyone at http://www.time.gov) did something rather odd. For precisely one second, the time they displayed was 23:59:60. That sixty-one-second minute was not a glitch. Instead it was a leap second, an extra second inserted deliberately by the time lords of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, designed to fractionally extend the day. It was the 26th such intervention since the world’s standards bodies agreed to the idea in 1972.Leap seconds exist to stop two different ways of time-telling from drifting too far out of sync. The first is simple, ancient and intuitive, and based on the rotation of the Earth.The second is new, alien and much more accurate. It uses atomic clocks to count up seconds, 86,400 of which add up to a day.Earth’s rotational speed varies over time as its hot, molten innards churn.That means that, over time, the two ways of telling the time lose sync with each other.Whenever they get too far out of whack, a leap second is added to re-unite them.But many people dislike the leap seconds’ hackish nature.The Geneva conference runs until the end of November, and its delegates are split: Australia, the United States and China are all in the abolitionist camp; Britain, Russia and many of its ex-Communist satellites favour the status quo.
  5. Japan Post came to the stockmarket and immediately soared. Shares in Japan Post Holdings, the holding company, and in its two subsidiaries (in banking and insurance) jumped by over 15%. The IPO is the world’s biggest this year: the government is raising around ¥1.4 trillion ($11.6 billion). It hopes that sustained price rises will encourage more widespread share-ownership in Japan. Private-sector banks, meanwhile, will watch, post-IPO, for unfair encroachment by their postal rival, the country’s biggest savings institution.
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