Microraptor dinosaurs ate fish

This video is called Flying MicroraptorPlanet Dinosaur – Episode 2 – BBC One.

And now, from a very big carnivorous dinosaur, to a very small carnivorous dinosaur.

From Wired:

Microraptor: A 4-Winged, Fish-Eating Dinosaur

By Nadia Drake


7:12 PM

Fossilized guts reveal that Microraptor — a four-winged, flying dinosaur — had an unusual taste for fish. Located near the fossil’s ribs, a mass of fish bones bearing the mark of strong digestive acids suggests the crow-sized reptile’s prey veered from the arboreal to the aquatic.

“There are only two other good examples of dinosaurs with a taste for sushi: the giant, crocodile-like spinosaurs and the tiny compsognathids,” said Scott Persons, from the University of Alberta. “So, no. Fish are not usually considered as staples of a dino’s diet.”

Previous analyses of Microraptor specimens pointed toward prey retrieved from trees: small mammals and birds. But a new analysis, reported Apr. 19 by Persons and colleagues in the journal Evolution, suggests the dinosaur feasted on fish as well. The team based its conclusions on specimen QM V1002, retrieved from northeastern China in an area thought to have been a forested, freshwater lake environment 120 million years ago. Nearly complete, though with a badly crushed skull, the fossil bears traces of the long, dark feathers that have come to distinguish Microraptor. Among the preserved bones and feathers is a lump of bony fish bits that includes fin rays, ribs, vertebrae, and bits of acid-etched fish skull.


Persons and colleagues also suggest the dinosaur’s teeth made it particularly good at impaling fish. Its small teeth are angled forward, as is commonly seen in other fish-eating animals such as crocodiles. And they’re only serrated on one edge, which would prevent prey from being ripped apart while struggling.

The team isn’t sure yet whether the dinosaur caught its own fish, or scavenged on leftovers. And, whether the glossy, flying dino behaved more like an eagle or an egret is also still unclear.

“It does not have the long legs of wading bird (like a heron or stork), and we don’t think it had the opposable talons of a modern raptor (like an osprey or fish eagle),” Persons said in an email. “It may have swooped down on fish like a kingfisher, but there is a lot of debate over how agile of a flyer Microraptor was.”

Dutch Tyrannosaurus rex excavation in Wyoming

This video is called Tyrannosaurus REX (Extreme Survivor).

Translated from Naturalis museum in the Netherlands:

T. rex expedition 2013

From 29 April / May 18, 2013 Naturalis will excavate a Tyrannosaurus rex. This they will do in Wyoming, USA, in co-operation with the Black Hills Institute. Follow the excavation in this news blog and enjoy this exciting adventure!

Translated from Corine Knoester in the Netherlands:

While searching for a T. rex Naturalis came in contact with T. rex expert Pete Larson of the Black Hills Institute. He pointed out to them a place in Wyoming where a few fragmented but beautiful fossilized bones of the left foot were found. It is usually the small bones that get lost the first and the fact that some of these bones have been found together is one of the promising bits of evidence that the rest of the skeleton is also present.

United States ranchers turn to avitourism

This video from the USA says about itself:

The Gunnison Sage-Grouse is a spectacular but declining bird of the western sagebrush. It is restricted to seven isolated locations in Colorado and one tiny population in Utah. In early 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed it under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The males have an extravagant spring display in which they puff out their bodies, fan their tails into a starburst, and make low, gurgling sounds with bizarre froglike air sacs in their chests—watch them here.

By Melissa Mayntz, About.com Guide in the USA:

Ranchers Turn to Avitourism

It’s no surprise to birders that many grassland game birds, including sage-grouse and prairie-chickens, are facing a critical loss of habitat, but what does come as a surprise is help from an unlikely source – the same ranchers who used to advocate more agricultural land at the birds’ expense. According to the Washington Post, more ranchers are realizing the economic boon birds can provide when they open their land – preserving it in a prairie state – to visiting birders eager to view leks and see the outrageous courtship dances of many of these species.

Avitourism is growing in many areas, and as communities learn how attractive birding can be for visitors – who pay to stay in hotels, eat meals, register for festivals, hire guides, etc. – more birding festivals and local tour companies are being organized. In April alone there are more than 30 festivals available, with three dedicated just to popular game birds.

Does your area host any birding festivals? Share them in the comments so they can be added to the birding festival directories!

Dubai prince in horse doping scandal

Sheikh Mohammed, center, during the Dubai World Cup on March 30

Ali Haider/European Pressphoto Agency: Sheikh Mohammed, center, during the Dubai World Cup on March 30.

From the New York Times in the USA:

April 23, 2013, 9:14 am

Horse Doping Scandal Rocks Dubai’s Rulers


LONDON — The horseracing world has been shaken to its fetlocks by revelations of a doping scandal at the top prize-winning Godolphin stable, owned by Dubai’s ruling Maktoum family.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, was described as “absolutely appalled” by the announcement on Monday that 11 Godolphin thoroughbreds trained at Newmarket, the home of British horseracing, had tested positive for banned steroids.

In what one racing commentator described as “one of the biggest doping scandals of modern times,” Mahmoud Al Zarooni, one of Godolphin’s top trainers, admitted responsibility for administering the drugs in what he said was a “catastrophic error.”

Simon Crisford, Godolphin racing manager, said, “This is a dark day for Godolphin. We are all shocked by what has happened.”

According to Cornelius Lysaght, the BBC’s racing correspondent, Sheikh Mohammed’s legendary hands-on approach has been responsible for turning Godolphin into one of the few top players in racing, and the Maktoum family has helped transform Dubai into a world center for sport and leisure.

“Yet, apparently right under their noses, perhaps racing’s greatest ever drugs scandal has unfolded,” Mr. Lysaght wrote.

Godolphin was set up in 1992 to take advantage of the climate in Dubai, where the Maktoum horses spend the winter at a state-of-the-art training center in preparation for the most prestigious races around the world.

The ruling family went on to establish the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race. This year Godolphin was the leading owner at the event for the sixth straight year.

Dubai is currently involved in a project to boost China’s nascent racing industry. Meydan Group, a government-owned developer that runs the Dubai track, said it plans to host an international meeting there this year.

As a Godolphin trainer since 2010, Mr. Zarooni has added to its string of track victories, including a win at last year’s Dubai event with Monterosso, owned by Sheikh Hamdan, crown prince of the Arabian Gulf emirate.

The British Horseracing Authority announced on Monday it would hold a disciplinary inquiry after traces of two banned anabolic steroids were found in samples taken from 11 horses trained by Mr. Zarooni. They were among 45 animals tested at the Moulton Paddocks stables in Newmarket.

They include the American-bred Certify, a three-year-old filly that has now been pulled from the One Thousand Guineas, next week’s British classic.

The Daily Mail said the ban on the horses that tested positive would be “hugely embarrassing” for Sheikh Mohammed.

Mr. Zarooni, who now faces a training ban, said he deeply regretted what had happened. “Because the horses involved were not racing at the time, I did not realize that what I was doing was in breach of the rules of racing,” he said, according to the Godolphin Web site.

Dubai royal Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed, whose death at the age of 33 due to a heart attack was announced over the weekend, was a horse racing enthusiast whose public profile was shaped largely by his sporting interests – and damaging claims about his personal life. Dubai royal found some success as a sportsman, but had his political role curtailed amid allegations of drug taking and the alleged slaying of a secretary: here.

200,000 visits to this blog

Ever since my blog had to move to WordPress in December 2011, WordPress statistics count the number of visits to Dear Kitty. Some blog.

Today, the counter passed the 200,000 visits mark.

I don’t know by whom this visit #200,000 was, as WordPress does not say that. However, all visitors are welcome, so it does not really matter!

So, some fireworks to celebrate visit #200,000.

This video says about itself:

How to fold the origami Fireworks

Designed by Yami Yamauchi.

Presented here by Jo Nakashima with permission of the creator.

Bahrain dictatorship keeping its torture secret

This video is called Royal Torture: Bahrain princess charged with activist abuse.

From the BBC:

23 April 2013 Last updated at 13:44 GMT

Bahrain blocks visit of UN torture rapporteur

By Bill Law, BBC News

The Bahraini government has postponed indefinitely a visit by Juan Mendez the UN special rapporteur on torture.

According to the country’s official news agency the trip has been called off “until further notice”.

This comes just days after the release of a US State Department report on human rights in Bahrain which spoke of “significant” violations including torture in detention.

The Gulf kingdom has been wracked by civil unrest for two years.

The violence has left at least 50 people dead.

An independent enquiry established by King Hamad al-Khalifa in 2011 found that there had been numerous abuses. The king accepted the report and promised accountability and reform.

But human rights organisations in Bahrain and outside the country say that the promised reforms are happening either too slowly or not at all. And they allege that human rights abuses are continuing.

The US State Department Bahrain 2012 Human Rights Report spoke of “serious human rights problems,” including “citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists”.

Mr Mendez had originally intended to visit Bahrain in 2012 but that too was called off. Pointing to this second postponement Brian Dooley of US based Human Rights First called the decision “a huge blow to the credibility of Bahrain’s reform process”.

“It seems like the Bahrain regime is frightened of what more international scrutiny might reveal. It’s very telling that they’ve shut Mendez out again,” said Mr Dooley. …

Bahrain crisis timeline

14 February, 2011: Demonstrators occupy iconic landmark, Pearl Roundabout in the capital
14 March: Gulf Cooperation Council force led by Saudi troops enters Bahrain. Police clear Pearl Roundabout
March-April: Hundreds arrested, thousands sacked from their jobs. Protest continue, 35 killed
23 November: Protests continue as Cherif Bassiouni releases damning report on human rights abuses. Authorities accept findings
Feb 10, 2013: Opposition and pro-government groups open dialogue but unrest continues

Namibian crocodiles research

This video is called Underwater Encounter with the Nile Crocodile – Swimming with Crocodiles – Episode 1 – BBC Two.

From New Era (Windhoek):

Namibia: Study Quantifies River Crocs

By Irene !hoaës, 23 April 2013

A recent report on the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), the only type of croc species in Namibia, revealed that the main crocodile sub-population occurs in the Caprivi Region with a population estimate of 1 314 crocodiles over 2 metres in size.

However, a significant percentage of this population occurs within international border waters and therefore is technically shared with neighbouring countries. An estimated 28 percent of Caprivi’s hippopotamus population theoretically belongs to neighbouring countries and it would be reasonable to assume a similar percentage for crocodiles, since the two species share a similar habitat.

Thus the estimated population size for northeastern Namibia, excluding the Okavango River population west of the Caprivi Region, is approximately 946 adult crocodiles. A study in 2011 estimated a male to female sex ratio of 1:1.3 in the Okavango Delta panhandle region of northern Botswana, and it would be reasonable to assume similar ratios for Namibia. If these assumptions are correct, there are approximately 529 adult female crocodiles and 417 males.

“It is important to note that this probably represents a conservative estimate,” a 2012 study by the ministry of environment and tourism states. In Namibia the Nile crocodile is protected and approximately 10 percent of the available crocodile habitat falls within or on the borders of protected areas. However in the Caprivi Region, 74.0 percent can be found in protected areas, while 12.0 percent can be found in conservancies and 14.0 percent in undesignated or communal land.

In Namibia, natural populations occur in the major river systems in the north of the country, including the Kunene, Kavango, Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi rivers. West of Caprivi, information on the status of crocodile populations is relatively lacking. Crocodiles occur throughout the course of the Namibian section of the Okavango River, but no systematic population surveys have taken place upstream of the Caprivi section.

The Okavango River supports the highest concentration of humans per kilometre of river frontage in northeastern Namibia, while crocodile densities show a strong negative correlation with human densities on this river, revealed 2004 and 2009 studies. “It is likely that direct and indirect human pressure is a significant conservation threat to the future of crocodiles living outside of protected areas on the Namibian section of the Okavango River,” according to the 2012 study report.

No crocodile surveys have been carried out on the Kunene River, however, data on human/crocodile conflict from conservancy event books and anecdotal accounts suggest the population is significant and stable along the entire Namibian section. The unique characteristics of this aquatic ecosystem and relative geographical isolation suggest there could be important biological and/or ecological differences in this sub-population.

Until such time as detailed population surveys can be carried out on the upper Okavango and Kunene rivers, it would be reasonable (and probably conservative) to assume that these river sections effectively double Namibia’s crocodile population. The Okavango crocodile population is linked to the East Caprivi population via the Selinda Spillway. Notable concentrations occur around the eastern Caprivi floodplains and Muhango National Park on the Okavango River.

In general, densities decline away from protected areas. River fertility and concentrations of fish and other natural prey species are probably the most important determinants of population density in most cases. “This would explain the persistent population along the Zambezi River section and the unexplained density variation between protected and non-protected areas,” states the report.

The Kwando River basin drains Kalahari quartzite soils and thus the river has a very low nutrient content. Crocodiles do not occur in the Orange River, most likely because the water and local climate are too cold. Nile crocodiles are capable of limited oceanic movements thus the prevailing currents and water temperatures make marine sightings in Namibia highly unlikely.

Even crocodiles need their five a day, it seems. At least half of all species of alligator and crocodile supplement their meaty diet with the flesh of fruit: here.

Spanish fat cat bankers, government make people homeless

This video says about itself:

9 November 2012

The number of evictions in crisis-hit Spain is turning into a national scandal, as a second homeowner committed suicide on the day a foreclosure order was served.

53-year-old Amaya Egaña threw herself from her fourth floor appartment in the Basque town of Barakaldo.

Three hundred and fifty thousand people are said to have lost their homes over unpaid mortgages since the crisis began.

Senior judges in Spain have joined in the criticism of the legislation and there are calls for politicians to act.

“This kind of situation, like the one we had today here, shouldn’t happen. It would be good if those responsible for changing the law did so – and they’re not the judges,” said local judge Juan Carlos Mediavilla.

The European Court of Justice has also criticised Spain’s mortgage legislation and rules over evictions for being incompatible with European norms. Consumers, it says, are not sufficiently protected against abusive clauses in contracts.

Protest groups have sprung up and there have been demonstrations outside banks.

There have been calls for people facing eviction to pay a “social rent” rather than being kicked out of their homes.

Another video which used to be on YouTube used to say about itself:

Nov 10, 2012

Spain vigil held for suicide woman

(ROUGH CUT ONLY – NO REPORTER NARRATION) Residents of the Basque town of Barakaldo held a vigil on Friday (November 9) night in homage to a 53-year-old woman who killed herself jumping out from the balcony of her fourth floor flat from she was about to be evicted. Amaia Egaña had fell back in her mortgage payments, police said.

Neighbours and members of the Spanish Association to Stop Evictions (known in Spanish as PAH), gathered in front of the building where the victim lived to protest against evictions in Spain. Amaia Egana is the second suicide related to evictions in Spain over the last two weeks. … On Thursday (November 8) a report by the Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) Julianne Kokott said that Spanish legislation on evictions contradicts European norms on consumer rights.

By Franci Vier and Paul Mitchell:

Mass evictions continue in Spain

23 April 2013

Last Thursday, the Popular Party (PP) used its majority in Spain’s Congress to pass a Law on Measures to Protect Debtors, Debt Restructuring and Social Renting.

The law was prompted by an anti-evictions petition launched by the Mortgage Victims Platform (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH), which received 1.5 million signatures. The three main demands of the petition, known as the Legislative Initiative for Decent Housing (Inciativa Legislativa Popular, ILP) were a backdated halt to evictions, the creation of a pool of social housing for those who are made homeless, and a new law to allow those who have had their homes foreclosed to write off their debts by handing the property over to the bank. Under Spanish law, a mortgage holder can be made to pay off a remaining loan if the value of the property does not cover the debt.

The PAH claimed the PP government could be pressured to update Spain’s eviction laws because they were incompatible with a democratic society and European law even though they were fully aware that only one of the 66 ILPs presented to Congress since 1977 has ever made its way onto the statute books.

None of the ILP demands were included in the PP’s new law. It is so narrow that only a very small proportion of those facing eviction will be covered, and it won’t apply to existing eviction orders. Regional and local authorities have been given powers to provide low-rent housing to evicted families, but only a fraction of those affected will be covered. Most regions are highly indebted and subject to deficit targets so will not provide the accommodation or, if they do, cut expenditure on other services. In Madrid, where there were nearly 15,000 evictions last year, only 1,000 apartments are being made available.

The PAH website complained, “Although the PP ignores the collected signatures and aims to bury the ILP on Thursday in Congress we do not give up because there are lives at stake. We will continue to fight to prevent social exclusion for life for thousands of families. Yes we can!”

PAH spokeswoman and co-founder, Ada Colau, declared, “The PP’s proposal as it stands is one of economic, social and legal chaos.”

Evictions have become a major political issue in Spain, with huge sympathy for those caught in the mortgage trap at the same time as the banks have been bailed out with tens of billions of euros on low interest. Sympathy grew further following shocking incidents of people committing suicide as the bailiffs came to throw them out of their homes. According to the country’s top legal body, the General Council of Judicial Power, there have been 415,000 eviction orders since 2008, and some 60 percent have been carried out.

Under Spanish law, if an ILP has sufficient signatures, the government has to consider legislation. In mid-February, the PP government voted in favour of a debate—a manoeuvre clearly intended to neuter the demands. The PAH and many left groups celebrated the PP’s move, saying it vindicated the use of pressure politics as an instrument to fight for the interests of the people and to rectify social wrongs.

To keep up the pressure, the PAH established a direct-action campaign of noisy but peaceful public denunciations or “unmaskings” (escraches) of individual politicians outside their homes under the slogan “Yes we can…. But they don’t want to.”

The PP was unmoved, saying the ILP demands undermined the fundamental concept of private property and would worsen the finances of the country’s hugely indebted banks. When the PP presented its watered-down proposals, the PAH responded by stepping up the campaign of escraches. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy accused them of “acts of intimidation,” and PP general secretary María Dolores de Cospedal called them “pure Nazism.”

What a chutzpah. As the PP are the political heirs of dictator Franco, who collaborated with Hitler’s nazis, including on the Holocaust.

Police were ordered to erect barriers around politicians’ homes and prevent protests coming closer than 300 metres. After the escrache in front of the home of Vice President Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, three protesters were fined €1,500 each and 15 others were fined €200 to €250. …

The anti-eviction campaign struck a chord with workers and youth. Polls suggest that 80 percent of the population supported the ILP, and a similar percentage is behind the escraches. This sentiment expresses the anger and frustration within the Spanish population suffering austerity measures and social cuts.

Barcelona Squatters Occupy Buildings Taken Over By Banks: here.

Spain jobless total worst since Franco: here.

Save Scottish hen harriers

This video is about hen harriers in Scotland.

From Wildlife Extra:

New initiative to save Scotland’s Hen harriers launched

Record all your Hen harrier sightings

April 2013. A new initiative aimed at conserving one of Scotland’s most charismatic birds – the hen harrier – has been launched.

You can help

Environment Minister and chairman of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) Paul Wheelhouse is urging bird-watchers, land managers, hill-walkers and all other members of the public to look out for and report sightings of hen harriers. People are being asked to record details of gender, behaviour and place, date and time of sighting. This will help PAW Scotland to build valuable information on these birds, recording what happens to them in order to conserve the species for future generations.

Some interesting facts about hen harriers that will also help you identify them include:

The male is grey above, white below, and with black wing tips. The female is much larger, and brown, with white streaks below.
The male performs a spectacular looping skydancing display to entice a female to mate with him
The male often feeds the female by flying close to the nest and then summoning her to leave the nest, fly toward him, and then back flip to catch the prey dropped by the male, from above

Scotland has the bulk of the hen harrier population across the UK

Mr Wheelhouse said: “The hen harrier is one of Scotland’s most fascinating birds of prey – with the male’s skydancing display one of nature’s great sights. In the Year of Natural Scotland people deserve to see the best of our wildlife whether they are on holiday, or simply going about their day-to-day activities. Unfortunately these birds are not thriving in some parts of Scotland where we know they would find a suitable habitat and we are determined to take action to conserve them. This initiative will raise the profile of the hen harrier to provide us with important information about their activity and location, and I hope people across Scotland will join the efforts to conserve this alluring bird for future generations.”

Numbers are dwindling

Found mainly across moorland throughout Scotland, there were around 500 pairs of hen harriers in 2010. However, in many areas they are now struggling to breed, or are absent, and elsewhere in the UK they are faring even worse. Factors accounting for these changes include land use changes resulting in losses of moorland nesting habitat and feeding range, predation of eggs and young by foxes, crows and other predators, and illegal persecution.

SNH will record the information and details of how to participate in the initiative are available on the PAW Scotland website.

Ron Macdonald, Head of Policy and Advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, added: “The public can be of great help by reporting sightings and helping us build a picture of the reasons why these birds aren’t doing as well as we would expect. Using sightings from the public, we can assess whether to use some of the new technology at our disposal such as satellite-tagging or camera monitoring, or even where necessary share information with the National Wildlife Crime Unit. We do want people to bear in mind though that these birds are specially protected under the law and nobody should approach hen harrier nests or disturb the birds without a licence from SNH.”

People are urged not to disturb the birds near their nests. It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb a hen harrier (or its dependent young), whilst it is in or building a nest, or near a nest containing eggs or young. If the public see anything suspicious involving wildlife, they are advised to report this to the Police.

Instead, PAW Scotland is simply looking for sightings of hen harriers made whilst people are walking, birdwatching, driving, looking out of the window in a train or bus, or even whilst at work.

Raptor monitoring scheme

As part of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme many birdwatchers already report sightings to the British Trust for Ornithology‘s (BTO) Bird Track website – they should continue to contribute to these schemes and there is no need to report again to this initiative.

PAW Scotland is working hard to stop all crime against wildlife. It is particularly determined to stamp out illegal persecution of birds of prey.

Scotland introduces new measures to deter wildlife crime: here.

Japanese government honours World War II criminals

This video from Japan says about itself:

Protest at Yasukuni Shrine on August 15 – Japanese WWII Surrender Day

Aug 16, 2010

Aug 15, 1945, 65 years ago, Japan officially surrendered, thereby ending World War II. Every year nationalistic rightwing groups gather to protest the Peace Anti-War demonstrators at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Yasukuni Shrine dates back to the mid-19th century and it is a shrine for all those died serving the Emperor. In 1978 the spirits of Class A war criminals were enshrined there and official government visits there have often sparked outrage with Asian countries who suffered from Japan’s actions in WWII.

The Peace Party marched through a gauntlet of rightwingers surrounded by police in riot gear. Some of the rightwingers would make for the Peace party but would always get stopped by the police.

By Peter Symonds:

Japanese ministers visit notorious war shrine

23 April 2013

Visits by Japanese ministers, including deputy prime minister Taro Aso, to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine to the country’s war dead last weekend are another indication of the government’s nationalist and militarist agenda.

Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, National Public Safety Commission chief Keiji Furuya and deputy chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato all made separate trips to the war shrine to take part in religious ceremonies associated with the spring festival.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not make a visit, he pointedly sent ritual offerings inscribed with his name and title to the shrine. As opposition leader, Abe made a trip to the Yasukuni Shrine last October prior to winning the December election and subsequently gave the green light for his ministers to make visits.

The shrine to Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals, is a focus for right-wing nationalists who deny or dismiss the Japanese military’s involvement in terrible war crimes in the 1930s and 1940s. An associated war museum makes no mention of the atrocities and repeats wartime propaganda depicting Japan as a liberator of Asia from Western colonialism.

Abe is promoting militarism as part of his aim of building a “strong Japan”. He is a long-time supporter of the revision of school history books to remove “unjust” perceptions of the country’s wartime record. Abe has also indicated that he intends to modify previous, limited formal apologies by Japanese leaders for war crimes in Asia.

The latest visits to the Yasukuni Shrine have provoked protests by the South Korean and Chinese governments, which are exploiting the issue to stir up nationalist sentiment at home. South Korea’s foreign minister Yun Byung-se cancelled a trip to Tokyo and a foreign ministry spokesman expressed “deep concern and regret” over the visits to a shrine that “glorifies Japan’s wars of aggression.”

The Chinese foreign ministry also sent a “stern message” to Tokyo. The state-run Xinhua news agency declared that the Yasukuni visits were “a major obstacle for Japan to mend its ties with neighbouring China and South Korea.”

Since taking office, Abe has been cautious about expressing his nationalist views too openly, in large part to avoid alienating voters in the lead up to upper house elections in July. There is deep-rooted hostility in the working class to Japanese militarism, which was responsible for brutal repression at home as well as war crimes in Asia.

Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the election last December, not because of widespread support for his right-wing agenda, but due to popular hostility towards the previous Democratic Party of Japan government, its broken promises and regressive social and economic policies.

At the same time, the LDP government is proceeding with its aim of transforming the Japanese armed forces into a “normal” military, unfettered by the so-called pacifist clause in the country’s post war constitution. Abe has already announced an increase in the military budget—the first rise in more than a decade—and has taken a hard-line stance in the ongoing dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.

Abe is planning to make constitutional change a feature of the upper house election, but has avoided targeting Article 9, which, formally at least, “renounces war” and “the threat of use of force as a means of settling international disputes”. Article 9, which also prohibits “the maintenance of air, sea or land forces”, has not prevented Japan from maintaining a sizeable military under the pretext of “self defence forces” or from providing military assistance to the US-led occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a first step, the LDP government is proposing to modify the constitution to make future changes easier and thus open the door for more substantive alterations, including to Article 9. Currently any constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both parliamentary houses, followed by approval in a referendum. Abe is seeking to alter the constitution to require only a simple majority in the upper and lower houses.

Earlier this month, Abe met with officials of the extreme nationalist Japan Restoration Party (JRP), including Toru Hashimoto, to discuss cooperation on constitutional change. Hashimoto is JRP co-leader with Shintaro Ishihara, who until last year was Tokyo governor and a leading LDP member. Ishihara has called for a complete rewriting of the constitution and supports a major military expansion, even suggesting the development of Japanese nuclear weapons.

As part of his “pivot to Asia” aimed against China, US President Barack Obama called on Japan to play a greater regional “security role” and, in doing so, encouraged Tokyo to take a more aggressive stance towards Beijing. Hashimoto re-ignited the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands last year by proposing to buy the islands from their private Japanese owner. Tensions with China flared after the DPJ government “nationalised” the islands and Chinese maritime vessels and aircraft began challenging Japanese control of the area.

Washington has backed Tokyo in any conflict with China over the islands. It is also tacitly supporting the push for constitutional revision to allow Japan to collaborate more closely in its war plans against China. The LDP government is proposing to modify the constitution to allow Japan to engage in “collective self-defence”—that is, to join military pacts and engage in joint military operations with the US and other powers. Japan’s involvement in the Iraq war, which provoked widespread protests at home, was limited to sending a battalion sized reconstruction unit, not combat troops.

At the same time, the re-emergence of Japanese militarism has also generated obstacles for the Obama administration’s strategy of building a web of strategic alliances throughout Asia. Despite US pressure for Japan and South Korea to work more closely together, the two countries remain at loggerheads over the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islands. Last year South Korea pulled out of an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan that had been pushed by Washington.

By deliberately inflaming tensions throughout the region, the Obama administration is recklessly setting in motion forces that it does not control. While Japan has relied on the American military alliance since the end of World War II, it is rearming to defend its own economic and strategic interests that can conflict with those of the US.