Jun 9 2022

PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf: Who has the moral high ground?

By Fred Varcoe

As a former resident of Saudi Arabia (1980-1985) and a big golf fan, news of the Saudi Golf League really grabbed my attention. Except there is no Saudi Golf League. The knee-jerk Western media insist on calling the LIV Golf Invitational Series that because it is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which the West believes is blood money controlled solely by murderers.

In fact, it was set up by King Faisal – who some say was the most benevolent of Saudi monarchs – 50 years ago to aid projects within the Kingdom. In the last decade, it has expanded its influence in the international sphere and is now headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the son of the current monarch, King Salman. Its most high-profile recent investment was the purchase of Newcastle United football club in England.

The Crown Prince has been condemned by many in the West who hold him responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Those responsible for the murder had ties to the Crown Prince, so the West believes he has blood on his hands and anything he touches – such as investment funds – is tainted by this blood.

Once the connection is made, it’s hard to unmake, at least when it comes to Saudi Arabia. When it’s Israel, murders are done in self-defense.

On May 11, Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering raids by the occupying Israeli army. She was wearing a “press” vest and was not in a conflict zone. Her fellow journalists at the scene believe she was targeted and the Israeli military reportedly continued firing at the group of journalists she was with even after Abu Akleh and her colleague had been hit. To add insult to injury, Israeli police then attacked mourners at her funeral.

So, will the West try and stop investment from Israeli institutions? What will be the consequences for Israel? Well, we all know the answer to that. Israel operates with impunity in the Occupied Territories and beyond. Unlike Saudi Arabia, it will be free to sponsor any golf tournament it wants to without consequences or criticism. There were the usual pro-forma condemnations from the West and calls for an investigation, which, of course, will whitewash the whole affair. In truth, the killing has already been forgotten. But the LIV Golf Invitational Series is still blackballed for being a “Saudi” event. This is unbelievable hypocrisy.

Whiter than white?

Do you think the PGA Tour’s sponsors are whiter than white? Let’s look at some of them:

AFLAC: Irony of ironies, AFLAC was accused of misclassifying employees as “independent contractors” and was said to have “exploited workers, manipulated its accounting, and deceived shareholders and customers” by a number of former employees.
ASTELLAS: In 2016, Astellas UK was suspended from the U.K.’s pharmaceutical trade body as a result of “shocking” institutional failures, lies and “deception on a grand scale” in what was described as one of the worst cases ever considered by industry regulators. In 2019, the company in the U.S. agreed to pay $100 million over allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.
AVIS: In 2021, Avis Budget Group agreed to pay $10.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act.
BRIDGESTONE: Bridgestone subsidiary Firestone produced defective tires that resulted in up to 192 deaths in the United States and paid Ford $240 million in compensation and had to settle many other lawsuits.
CITI: In 2018, Citibank reached a settlement to pay $100 million in the Libor scandal. It was also in bed with the Japanese mafia and lost their private banking license because of their mob connections.
COCA-COLA: Where to start? Wikipedia has a whole page on “Criticism of Coca-Cola,” ranging from carrying on business with Russia during the war in Ukraine, carrying on business with apartheid South Africa, racial discrimination (for which they had to pay $192.5 million) and allegations their partners were involved with murdering union reps.
FEDEX: FedEx previously partnered with the National Rifle Association, only breaking things off after coming under pressure from activists (i.e., when it hurt their bottom line).
MASTERCARD: According to Wikipedia, in 1996, “about 4 million merchants sued Mastercard in federal court for making them accept debit cards if they wanted to accept credit cards and dramatically increasing credit card swipe fees. This case was settled with a multibillion-dollar payment in 2003. This was the largest antitrust award in history.”
METLIFE: MetLife only recently decided to cut ties with Assault Weapon Investments, Controversial Weapon Investments and Tobacco Investments. It was fined $3.2 million in 2012 for “loan service and disclosure practices” and $10 million in 2019 for “internal control failures.”
MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC: CEO Takeshi Sugiyama resigned in 2021 after it transpired the company had been falsifying data for air conditioners and brake compressors for trains for over 35 years. It was also guilty of selling substandard rubber products. It also tried to subvert an inquiry into other malpractices, leading to the disciplining of 12 executives in December 2021.
PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS: PWC has a long list of dodgy practices, including a $229 million settlement over a multibillion-dollar accounting fraud with Tyco International, being paid to set up a tax avoidance scheme and gender discrimination. In January 2018, it was banned in India and fined $2.1 million over its involvement in a fraud case and was accused of conflict of interest in Angola.
SHELL OIL: Shell has been involved in Saudi Arabia for over 70 years and currently works with Al Jomaih and Shell Lubricating Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. Friends of the Earth says that Shell has a “long history of contempt for people and planet,” is “jointly responsible for murders in Nigeria,” “avoids taxes” and is “involved in bribing a former petroleum minister to achieve an offshore oil field.”
STRYKER: Who are they? Well, Stryker provides the “Official Joint Replacement Products of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour,” despite having to pay out $1.5 billion for defective hip implants and a further $80 million for unauthorized devices used in knee surgery.
MORGAN STANLEY: Even a condensed list of violations and dubious practices by Morgan Stanley would require a small book. Check out the Corporate Research Project page on Morgan Stanley. Highlights include racial and gender discrimination, a $2.6 billion settlement for selling “toxic securities” in 2015, $1.25 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charges, and millions of dollars in other penalties for transgressions such as fraud and misleading practices.
The PGA also has FIVE “Official Betting Operators” (not including Phil Mickelson, who is alleged to have lost $40 million gambling). All legal, of course, but certainly not designed to improve people’s lives.
UPS is not a PGA Tour sponsor, but has recently divorced itself from two top golfers – Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen – because of their connection to LIV. While they could claim it’s a commercial decision, it’s clear that they’re also trying to stay away from being associated with “blood money.” Like other golf sponsors, UPS finds it difficult to stay away from controversy. It lost a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination in the late 1990s, had to pull an ad making false claims in 2009, had to pay $40 million “to end a federal criminal probe connected to deliveries it made for illicit online pharmacies,” had to pay “more than $25 million to settle charges it submitted false claims to the federal government” and had to pay $5.3 million to settle False Claims Act allegations earlier this year. Wait, there’s more….
In 2019, according to The Washington Post, “a group of United Parcel Service employees allegedly helped to import and traffic massive amounts of drugs and counterfeit vaping oils from Mexico, part of a scheme that exploited a vulnerability in the company’s distribution system, according to police. The lucrative operation at times involved moving thousands of pounds of marijuana and narcotics each week from narco-traffickers into the United States to destinations across the country, using standard cardboard boxes that were carefully routed through the private mail carrier’s trucking and delivery systems.”
According to a CNN report in 2019, a “white female [UPS] driver refused to deliver a package to a predominantly black neighborhood she referred to as ‘Nigger City’ and ‘NiggerVille’.”

This is not an in-depth dig into companies that sponsor the PGA Tour and golfers; it’s a quick flip through the internet.


And where does Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund put the rest of its money? Well, $43 billion is invested in the United States. So, if you go to Disneyland, ride an Uber, bank at Bank of America, use Facebook, play a Nintendo game or fly on a Boeing plane, you are taking advantage of Saudi “blood money.”

How about golf in Saudi Arabia? The DP World Tour established the Saudi International in 2019 – the year after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – and a number of top golfers have taken Saudi money by playing in tournaments there.

Saudi Arabia’s policy of executing criminals and terrorists also came under scrutiny, especially after 81 people were executed in a single day in March 2022. Full details of the crimes weren’t available, but it was revealed that many were for terrorism, murder or conspiracy to murder. The PGA is based in the United States, which executes criminals. It also has events in Japan, which executes criminals (including 13 in a single month in July 2018). And in China, which arbitrarily executes so many people Amnesty International has lost count. It certainly outstrips Saudi Arabia.

The usual memes about people in Saudi Arabia being executed for being gay were dragged out, but these have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Although my time in Saudi Arabia was many years ago, the country I lived in for five years bore no resemblance to the country portrayed in the British media, which at the time were astonishingly racist in their depictions of Arabs. There was a gay clique in the building I lived in and it seemed to be party central for that crowd. None of them were executed.

What about other “crimes?” A number of foreigners where I worked were arrested for drinking alcohol, but they weren’t locked up in a hole for years on end; they were just deported. A lot of them had drinking problems before they went to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis knew people produced and drank alcohol; they just wanted to keep it under control. Once when I went to buy a car, the young guy I was dealing with thought I might walk away from the deal. He told me his father wanted to meet me. He took me to his father’s office and left me. His father opened a draw in his desk and pulled out a bottle of whisky and two glasses. Deal sealed. (I was also arrested twice in Saudi Arabia but forgiven for my transgressions and allowed to stay in the country.)

Independence day

There’s also hypocrisy in the PGA Tour (and DP Tour) terming golfers “independent contractors,” yet severely restricting their trade by demanding permission to play in any non-PGA Tour event without permission. Yes, the golfers did agree to this, but did they have much choice? This stinks of monopoly and restriction of trade is illegal.

In the U.S., “restraint of trade covers a broad range of activities, including:
Creating a monopoly
Coercing someone to stop doing business
Forcing someone to change their business so it isn’t as competitive
Using non-compete clauses or other contract provisions to prevent someone from conducting business
Negatively affecting someone’s ability to conduct business freely.”

I’m not a lawyer, but how does the PGA Tour reconcile this with their designation of golfers as “independent contractors?”

Let’s face it, the PGA Tour is just one competition, effectively in one country. Why is it so scared of the LIV events? The obvious reason is that it might lessen the value of its own tour, but that’s highly unlikely. We already have three of the four majors in the U.S., as well as strong tours in Europe, Japan, Canada, Asia, etc., and they co-exist with the PGA Tour. And there are even times when the PGA Tour competes with itself, holding two events at the same time, so surely there’s room for alternative events. On top of that, not all the top players play every week, so if they’re not playing in a PGA event, why should they need permission to play elsewhere?

The truth is the PGA Tour is scared of competition. Three years ago, it increased the number of tournaments golfers must play every year for them to be able to keep feeding off the golden goose. As a result of LIV, it has gone even further by targeting college players. On May 11, the PGA Tour announced the following, according to the Golf Channel website:

“For college players hoping to both earn status through PGA Tour University and compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series, they will now have to pick one or the other. PGA Tour U announced on Wednesday an amendment to its rules of regulations. Effective immediately, players will forfeit their PGA Tour eligibility if they tee it up in a professional tournament that is unranked by the Official World Golf Ranking and not otherwise approved by the PGA Tour. This news comes after last week’s report that LIV Golf had extended membership to the top six players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, a group that includes several players currently in the PGA Tour U Velocity Global Ranking.”

A different experience

The LIV events are offering a different experience and what can only be described as silly money, even sillier than the PGA’s massive purses. In fact, the top PGA golfers earn so much money they really don’t need to look elsewhere. But to earn that money, they have to play a 72-hole stroke-play tournament and make the cut. LIV is proposing, no-cut, 48-member, three-round tournaments. It’s a different format (there’s also a team element to add spice to the results). The sad part of this is that the PGA, one of the most conservative organizations in sport, believes it has the perfect product and can’t even see a need for change. Sometimes, sports organizations need a good kick to get them moving. Cricket famously changed when outsider Kerry Packer tried to buy it. Cricket still has its five-day tests, but the rest of the game has been transformed with different formats and leagues around the world. Volleyball is another sport that has reinvented itself over the years with radically different rules and new tournaments. Golf, like football, seems to wallow in its own self-importance. It’s a great sport, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change and in recent weeks, a number of top golfers have said that there’s “room for improvement” in golf.

Greg Norman, LIV’s front man, has been trying to change the PGA-centric view of the sport for years. LIV is not his first attempt at shaking up the sport. Whether or not he’s got his tactics right remains to be seen. Perhaps going head-on against the PGA wasn’t the best move. Buying the Asian Tour could have given him more legitimacy (of course, I don’t know if it wants to be bought but it agreed to sanction the LIV events after a $300 million investment) and less conflict, and he could have grown his product from there. Swooping down from above with a billion dollars to spend was a bit crass and his “we’ve all made mistakes” quote concerning the murder of Jamal Khashoggi should have stayed in his overactive mouth.

However, it doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia has to concede the moral high ground to America, its snooty golf tour or its pampered, hypocritical golfers. I’m sure they feel morally just when they fill their environmentally unfriendly cars and jets with gas from Saudi Arabia and play games on their Made-in-China electrical goods.

The LIV Series is just another series of golf tournaments. If golfers sponsored by racist and criminal companies think they have the moral high ground, fine; they can stay where they are. But if you want to live your life on hyper-ethical grounds, you’d better clean up your act to vegan levels. “Blood money” hides in the strangest places.

Jul 23 2011

Has N. Korea shot its load?

By Fred Varcoe

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently that without America’s presence in the region, “North Korea’s military provocations could be even more outrageous or worse” and China “might behave more assertively toward its neighbors.”
Well, thank God for the American bomb.
Except that America’s presence failed to stop North Korea sinking South Korean warship the Cheonan (as South Korea claim) or prevent North Korea from unleashing an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island close to the disputed sea border between the two countries. It didn’t stop North Korea bombing a South Korean airliner in 1987; it didn’t stop North Korea trying to blow up the South Korean cabinet in Myanmar in 1983; and it didn’t stop North Korea kidnapping Japanese and South Korean citizens for over half a century.
Ah, but surely it has stopped North Korea from invading the South.
Well, it didn’t stop them in 1950 when there was a massive American military presence right next door in Japan, where the U.S. had demonstrated their nuclear might just five years before (the U.S. had a minimal presence in South Korea at the time).
It has been argued that America’s military presence in the region is more of a provocation than a source of appeasement. Certainly on a local basis, American troops are despised both in Japan and South Korea. For some they are a permanent blot on the landscape.
But they are not immovable. America’s greatest ally in East Asia – former colony the Philippines – told the U.S. military to “get the hell out of Dodge” in 1992.
According to a New York Times report, “The American military presence was assailed as a vestige of colonialism and an affront to Philippine sovereignty.”
Which is not dissimilar to how the North Koreans – and quite a few South Koreans and Japanese – view America’s presence in the region today.
You have to ask yourself how a relatively small country like the Philippines can tell the United States to leave, but the world’s third-largest economy – Japan – can’t. In addition, the Philippines were charging the U.S. $203 million a year for the right to have bases on their territory. In contrast, Japan pays in the region of $2 billion to the U.S. as “rent-a-cop” fees.
To get back to Korea, the only country that has stopped North Korea invading South Korea is North Korea. Of course, it’s all about consequences and equations. In 1950, North Korea had the support of China and the Soviet Union, and only had to consider a conventional war against a weak South. And its attack nearly succeeded. The North captured around 90 percent of South Korean territory. The South clung on desperately to a small corner of the peninsula known as the Pusan Perimeter.
After three years of fighting, the prewar divisions and stalemate remained intact. They remain intact today.

Calculation or miscalculation?

The North has growled for nearly 60 years at the U.S.-backed South, killing the odd American or South Korean, blowing up the odd airliner, kidnapping people for no apparent reason.
(The kidnapping of Japanese citizens makes no sense at all considering the number of “North Koreans” born and raised in Japan since the end of World War II. If North Korea wants to teach its spies and terrorists how to speak proper Japanese, then its own “citizens” are more than capable of doing this.)
But how have South Korea, Japan and the West reacted to the North’s most recent provocations? Simple, they’ve done virtually nothing. Of course, diplomats have expressed “concern,” but not enough to interrupt their early evening cocktails.
But North Korea may have miscalculated with its latest attack.
While South Korea’s defense minister was fired for a weak response to the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the South still retaliated with a barrage of 40 missiles, which, according to an Asian Times report by Washington-based analyst Yong Kwon, had a terrifying effect on the North:
“Radio Free Asia reported that the shelling of the Yeonpyeong Island caused widespread panic throughout North Korea because of the belief that the United States would retaliate militarily.”
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has vowed to use significant force if the North repeats its missile attack. This is widely interpreted as meaning air strikes against the North.
The North’s reaction? Let’s have some more six-party talks.
Initially, the South opted not to play that game again. And why would they? The six-party talks are a joke. If the North is caving in after a mild missile response from the South and the mere threat of an air strike, what incentive is there for the South to carry on playing the North’s game?
The North is not willing to negotiate away any of its advantages, certainly not the one ace it’s got over the West: its perceived nuclear capability, which is still unproven and may be more bluff than reality. But if the North is not up for a minor fight over its border, is it up for any fight at all?
The North may well have played its last card. If it can’t intimidate militarily, it can’t intimidate, period.
What actually, can the North do?
It can resort to terrorism, which, as the Palestinians (of old) and Al Qaeda have shown, can be more effective than overt military action, but such action would only serve to isolate the country more and could lead to strong countermeasures by South Korea, Japan and America. And blowing up planes, kidnapping people and assassinating politicians hasn’t worked for the North, so far.
It can attack South Korea again, but this would initiate a serious response from the South (and possibly the U.S.) and the North would then be forced to back down or escalate the conflict.
Such escalation could lead to war, but the North knows that while it can win some significant battles and inflict serious damage on the South, it will never win a war. War is an end game with the North defeated.
Could it use nuclear weapons? Theoretically, yes; practically no. Again, this would be an end-game tactic that would destroy North Korea, and the only raison d’etre for North Korea is to sustain the current regime. Stalemate for them is victory.
An invasion of the South would ultimately destroy the North. And there are serious doubts that the North could sustain a war beyond a few weeks. A ground war requires food and supplies and fuel and it’s unlikely that North Korea possesses enough of these to wage a credible campaign. North Korea may have great numbers – 7 million is the scary figure Western media like to use – but, again, it’s quality vs. quantity. In the Korean War, many soldiers from the South defected to the North. That’s not going to happen again. The reverse is far more likely.
Also, a war – or even a significant escalation – would involve China, but not like 60 years ago when half a million Chinese “volunteers” spontaneously flooded into Korea to aid Kim Il Sung. While half the West’s economy now seems to be tied up in China, nearly all of China’s economy is tied to the West. Do you think the Chinese people/government are going to sacrifice their wealth and stability to assist North Korea?
Wikileaks seem to suggest that the Chinese have less influence and less interest in North Korea than people in the West have given them credit for. The North needs China – without it, it would probably die. China does not need the North and the argument that a buffer is required between capitalist China and major trading partner South Korea just doesn’t hold water any more. China can afford to drop North Korea; it can’t afford to cut its ties with the West.


The citizens of Shanghai probably wouldn't want a war on their doorstep.


And if the South is going to carry out air strikes on the North, a good place to start would be the bridges over the Yalu River that link the North to China. Such a move would finally force China to take a stand on the North and their message to Pyongyang would have to be: Start a war and this time you’ll have to start it and finish it without us. Added to which, northeast Asia without a North Korean problem would ease tension in the region and allow China and the West to intensify their capitalistic intercourse.

While North Korea is the only country that can initiate a war on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea is the only country that should be making the decisions on how to prevent one.
The United States is quite clearly out of its depth and its involvement in the affairs of other countries in recent decades has been nothing short of embarrassing. Iraq, Libya, Palestine, George Bush/Tony Blair, Japan even (the Futenma debacle). My associations with Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan have shown me how ridiculous America looks to the citizens of these countries. Politically. Of course, many admire the economic achievements of the U.S., but the Washington would be foolish to think that they have earned universal respect in these and other countries.
And the other “players” in the Six-Party equation?
Japan is arguably the weakest country in the world when it comes to political clout and diplomacy. The government changes yearly and is invariably headed by a weak-willed idiot. Many Japanese would love it to have political power to match its economic strength, but don’t hold your breath. Tony “The Poodle” Blair has nothing on the lap-dancing lap dogs of Nagatacho.
China. Oh yes, the country that has influence on North Korea. North Korea is far less of a puppet state of China than Japan or South Korea is of the United States. China does not dictate to Pyongyang. But China is friendly – very, very friendly. And for a reason.
Any major instability in North Korea would have refugees rushing over the Yalu River into China rather than over the heavily mined DMZ into South Korea. And who or what would replace the Kim dynasty should it be removed from power? The only alternative power in the North is the army and this, reportedly, is extremely factional. An internal power struggle could result in more of the same (i.e., a new North Korean Saddam Hussein or Moammar Gadaffi to deal with) or a pro-West faction (or at least, a pro-West rapprochement faction).

Resolving to resolve nothing

Communist China’s only option in this whole game is to maintain the status quo. It is horrified by the prospect of a pro-Western, pan-Korean government and it certainly doesn’t want any more Koreans clogging up its border cities.
So it reaffirms its faith in the Six-Party Talks, knowing that they will never, ever bring about a resolution – certainly not the kind of resolution that the West anticipates. The purpose of the Six-Party Talks is to get the North to give up its nuclear weapons. This won’t happen, especially as the North watches the West bombing the crap out of Libya. North Korea and China win by prolonging the Six-Party Talks. Just as war is an end game, talks are a no-end game.
In an article in the April/May edition of the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) Journal by respected East Asia watchers Scott Snyder and Byun See Won, the writers talk of “the Six Party Talks through which North Korea’s nuclear programme and other issues must be addressed.” From the diplomatic perspective, this seems logical. Talking is what diplomats do. But if it’s resolution that you want, this won’t fly.
To their credit, the writers mention “doubts about China’s credibility as a broker of the Six Party Talks” and even suggest that China may have given North Korea a “blank cheque to pursue provocations with apparent impunity.” But this is also a misreading of China’s position. China may not be dictating to Kim Jong Il and at times may appear not to have the ability to control Pyongyang, but its patience would wear out rapidly if tensions escalated to extensive military action. For China, stalemate is the only answer; it certainly doesn’t want a resolution.
And it certainly doesn’t want a war. Snyder and Byun point out: “According to U.S. officials, Chinese party leaders have reportedly expressed increasing anxieties about Pyongyang’s provocations,” although the Chinese military apparently are less concerned.
China’s military may be flexing its muscles in other areas, but North Korea knows that it won’t get backing for any large-scale military action against the South (although it was interesting to note that while China condemned U.S.-ROK military exercises in the Yellow Sea, it failed to condemn the North’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island).
The other player in the six-party talks is Russia, presumably invited as it, too, borders North Korea, but also because they’d get extremely pissed off if they weren’t dealt with on equal terms. Russian involvement is peripheral. Russia is only interested in scoring diplomatic points, mainly against the West.
Gates has said, “There must be concrete evidence that [the North’s leaders] are finally serious about negotiations.” Well, good luck with that one, Mr. Gates, ‘cos you’re not going to get it.


In an insightful Asia Times Online piece (“Misunderstandings May Prove Fatal”), Kwon puts it thus:
“The bewildered diplomatic and military overtures to Pyongyang and Beijing are signs that Washington has barely begun to take a serious interest in the country that it has been confronting for over 50 years. Currently, too many policies towards the DPRK are made using presumptions and analogies that are fundamentally inconsistent with what little we do know about the regime’s objectives and perceptions. … Washington has placed a profound amount of faith in China’s leverage on Pyongyang. … Ultimately, the current policy of treating the DPRK as a Chinese client or puppet state is inherently flawed.”
Kwon concludes: “The assumptions that drive American foreign policy towards the DPRK are too often historically uninformed, and over-exaggerate or misinterpret the threats posed by Pyongyang. The Obama administration should recognize this and treat North Korea as it should be treated, a uniquely North Korean problem.”
That’s the first step. The second step is for Seoul to distance itself from Washington. Don’t give in to American blackmail as the Japanese did over the Futenma Air Base in Okinawa.
Diplomatic sources have suggested that Seoul is keen to press a hard line against the North. Pressure not to do so comes from outside. The South Korean government must have the courage of its convictions. North Korea is now in a uniquely vulnerable position. Its supreme leader seems to know he will not live too long (although he looked healthy enough on his recent trip to China) and it now has serious doubts about its ability to scare the South. Economically, it’s as much a basket case as ever and food shortages are a constant threat. There have been isolated reports of unrest in North Korean cities. Depriving the North of assistance will strengthen the South’s hand, assuming it can rid itself of brotherly guilt by making its people suffer more. While many in the South don’t want instant reunification, they still regard Korea as one country separated by politics (and blame Japan, Russia and the United States for the division). The North currently believes that the South will respond with force if another Yeonpyeong occurs. For that to be effective, that’s exactly what the South should do.
Raising the stakes is a risky game, but the North has never had to call the South’s bluff before. The South must now play its cards right if it wants to win the game.


Jan 19 2011

Out with the old

From www.photomichaelwolf.com

Text from Kyoto Journal 55

(A stunning little piece. It could equally apply to other places [I was thinking Korea]. Enjoy.)

“On one of my walks through Beijing, I discovered the chair shown on the previous page. It stood in front of a small shop where one could buy, amongst other things, delicious dumplings and soy milk. The shop owner, a young, rather fat man, was sitting on the chair as if it were a throne. And what a wonderful chair it was, propped up on one side by an old spingle and two bricks, and on the other its weak leg was splinted with a piece of wood and some plastic string.

“I set up my camera and tripod and proceeded to take some photographs. As so often when I work in China, a large crowd of people gathered behind me and bombarded me with questions. ‘Why are you taking photographs of that chair; it’s so ugly’ people asked me. `You are making fun of China,’ an older woman hissed as she held her hand in front of my lens. I turned to her and explained: ‘This is an old chair which has had a long and hard life. When I look at it, I do not see an ugly chair. I see a chair with a strong character, like a person who has lived for 80 years and has not given up the will to live even though life has been hard.’ The woman looked at me and shook her head: `I don’t believe you. You are a foreigner who is trying to show how backward the Chinese are. Why don’t you take a picture of a new chair?’

“I finished taking the portrait of the chair, packed up my equipment and walked on. Later that day, I walked by the shop again in order to have another look at the chair. It was gone. When I asked the owner where it was, he said: ‘After you left, the public security police came and smashed it into 100 pieces. They said it was shameful for China and that I should buy a new one.’

(Thanks to Michael Wolf for permission to run this.)