Finally there is something that US Democrats and Republicans can all agree on – or at least the ones living overseas. Both expatriate camps are up in arms about proposed changes to the tax code that would increase the amount of money they have to remit home to Uncle Sam each year.
In Hong Kong this week, members of the city’s Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad chapters got together to plot strategy and lobby their representatives on Capitol Hill. In a high-rent town like Hong Kong, one issue of particular concern is the move to limit the annual housing exclusion to $12,000 – a pittance considering that the monthly rent on many a high-flying expat’s Peak penthouse can easily be a multiple of that.
In search of an appropriate symbolic protest, some have suggested commandeering a Chinese junk and restaging America’s most famous tax rebellion – the Boston Tea Party – in Hong Kong’s notoriously polluted harbour. Others, however, are worried that such a stunt might come across as anti-American and perhaps violate an environmental ordinance or two.
“You pour tea into the harbour – big deal,” says one eager rebel. “It’s not like it’s the worst thing to hit that harbour.”
Most movie producers react with outrage to censorship. Not so Hollywood’s Paula Wagner, the producer of Mission: Impossible III, who positively purred in a statement this week after her movie was cleared, with cuts, for screening in China.
In a statement, Wagner said that she was pleased with the “adjustments” made before the release of the film, which includes substantial segments filmed in Shanghai.
“It is a wonderful meeting of the minds in that we were able to accommodate the cultural needs and adjusted to certain things to play to a Chinese audience,” she said. “We maintained the integrity of the film and are very proud of the work we have done.” Luckily, Chinese film lovers will not have to take Wagner’s word for this. The film is already out, uncut, in pirated form and on sale on Chinese streets.
Wagner is not saying what has been excised, but Observer’s tip for the cutting floor is the scene featuring Tom Cruise mowing down security guards identified as “former People’s Liberation Army soldiers”. China’s army would not allow itself, nor its former members, to be shown to be so thoroughly beaten up by a bunch of foreigners on its home soil.
A release date has yet to be set.
A true bargain
When CBS, the US broadcast network, poached Katie Couric from rival NBC’s Today show to make her the first female anchor of a network newscast, the moment was hailed as a historic one for women. But many in the media business looked beyond the social implications of her ascension to the seat once held by Walter Cronkite to focus on cost. At $15m per year, they wondered if the queen of morning television was too expensive for a fading franchise like the evening news.
This week, however, Les Moonves, the CBS chief executive who wooed Couric, argued otherwise. Even before she had taken her place behind the anchor desk, he claimed that her presence was already juicing the network’s advertising rates.
“Katie Couric probably paid for herself in the first week of up-front advertising,” Moonves told investors, referring to the annual exercise in which the networks sell their commercial inventory to advertisers.
Moonves even went so far as to call Couric “one of the best bargains”. No doubt other television journalists are hoping to join her in the same bargain bin.
Shanghai does not get many chances to show off its bright lights to world leaders but this week’s summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, a central Asian security group, is a perfect chance. Visitors include President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president.
But are they overreacting just a little bit? Government employees have been given three days off work so that the traffic will be lighter (although, in the spirit of no free lunches, they had to work last weekend). Large parts of the city have been closed off as a precaution against terrorism. The fancy restaurants that line the riverfront Bund, the city’s most famous street, were not allowed to open last night while the leaders were watching a fireworks display from a boat on the river.
Citizens who live near the conference centre have been asked to take potted plants off their balconies – so they do not fall on passers-by – and to not leave wet clothes hanging outside to dry. No country likes to wash its dirty linen in public – but the Shanghai authorities are taking the expression a touch too literally.
Hot on the heels of Australia’s late, late World Cup victory over Japan comes an even meatier clash between the usually firm diplomatic allies. The two countries are on opposite sides in the polarised debate over whether to lift the 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling.
The International Whaling Commission annual gathering starts in the Caribbean tomorrow with Japan angling to have the ban overturned. Leading the opposition to Tokyo is Australia, with Canberra last year instrumental in helping to preserve (narrowly) the status quo.
Japan plans to counter-attack this time round, hoping to enlist the support of new IWC members such as Guatemala, Cambodia and Israel.
Observer’s man in Canberra says: “This fight could prove as close as that in Kaiserslautern last Sunday.” The final result, expected to be announced next week, will be keenly awaited across whale-loving Australia.
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