The buck stops where?

If you don’t read Josh Marshall every day you’re definitely missing out. He outdoes himself today with a prediction that is almost certainly going to become a reality, and it would surely be in full flower already if Andrew Sullivan, ever apoplectic over the BBC and his “fifth column,” weren’t still on vacation.

He spells out a scenario that’s likely to develop as everybody in Team Bush passes the buck on the utter mess that is now Iraq:

It would go something like this: To the extent that we’re facing reverses in Iraq, we’re not facing them because the plan was flawed or incompetently executed. We’re facing them because the plan was sabotaged – by its enemies at home.

The saboteurs were the folks at the State Department and the CIA who stymied effective collaboration with the pre-war Iraqi opposition and members of the defeatist press who have a) demoralized Americans by exaggerating the problems with the occupation of Iraq and b)encouraged the mix of jihadists and Baathists, by creating that demoralization, to keep up their resistance and bombing by giving them the hope that America can be run out of the country.

For my part, I doubt it’ll work. But I think that’s where we’re going.

He likens the scenario to that which developed in Germany after it lost the Great War, when the nationalists (including, most notably, the fuehrer to be) blamed it all on the “November Criminals,” a consortioum of Jews and Communists they insisted were bent on seeing Germany humiliated and defeated.

We’ll know pretty soon whether he’s right. It would be totally consistent with this administration’s behavior as exhibited during the blame-the-CIA frenzy over the Niger uranium.


Salem Pax’s home gets busted

A shocking story over at Salem Pax about a recent raid of his house by American troops. It’s not that they did anything brutal or cruel. But it certainly isn’t the way to win friends and influence people. It told me me how much the Iraqis must despise us.

SP is educated, erudite and urbane, probably more so than your average Iraqi. So imagine how they must feel during events like this, which are apparently quite commonplace now. Are we welcomed and beloved by most Iraqis or feared and despised? My common sense tells me it has to be the latter, in which case I wonder, how can we ever succeed there? The whole thing was based on the premise that we’d be greeted with open arms and welcomed as liberators, if not saviors. And to a certain extent, we were. But as so many of the “weasels” and “anti-Americans” feared, there was no realistic plan to deal with the aftermath. We over-reached, the most common blunder of heady conquerors.

Via M.K.]


Lara Croft Banned in China

The economy rocks, the middle class is growing, the shackles of the Cultural Revolution are a distant memory of a bad dream, but some things in China take a longer time to change. Like censorship.

The second Tomb Raider film, starring actress Angelina Jolie, has been banned in China because it portrays the country “negatively”, authorities said.


Censors said the film portrayed China as a country in chaos.

“After watching the movie, I feel that the westerners have made their presentation of China with malicious intention,” an unidentified official said in reports. The Chinese also complained the film had made the country appear to have no government and run by secret societies.

“The movie does not understand Chinese culture. It does not understand China’s security situation. In China there cannot be secret societies,” the official said.

No secret societies? What does he think the Chinese Communist Party is? The irony is that the film will be banned from the movie theaters, but pirated copies can already be bought all over the country for less than $1 USD per disc. Why do they bother?


Singapore cracks down on the glue bandits

However well intentioned Singapore’s laws banning chewing gum may have been, they have provided endless grist for the parody mill, helping paint a picture of a country run by control freaks who look upon their subjects as children who must constantly be told what they can and cannot do.

As all visitors know, a running joke, reflected on tourist t-shirts, is that “Singapore is a fine city” — no matter what you do here, there’s a good chance it’s illegal and you’re liable to pay a fine for it.

Yesterday, the all-knowing, paternalistic, gently authoritarian government added a new crime to the fine roster: gluing unauthorized ads to lamp posts. (Apparently it costs about $15,000 every month to scrape glue off of lamp posts.)

Here’s what gluers may face:

Offenders can be fined up to $2,000 (Singapore), jailed for up to three years and caned under the Vandalism Act for defacing public property. In 1994, American teenager Michael Fay, who was caught spray-painting cars, was caned despite the objections of then-President Clinton.

A high fine, three years in jail and a caning — for gluing an ad to a post? To a Westerner like me that seems mighty strict. But you have to understand just how obsessed leaders here are with keeping Singapore antiseptically clean and tidy. And it works. So is their approach good or bad? Interesting question.

[Off-topic but not really: Why do they have to bring up the decade-old Michael Fay story, which is wholly irrelevant to this issue? While I sympathized with Fay at first, after doing some research on his post-Singapore adventures my well of compassion is nearly totally dessicated. What an out-of-control brat.]


Clinton for President?

Earlier in the week I was thinking of how great it would be if Bill Clinton were to be our next president. This was inspired by a description of how, at a recent Fortune conference, Clinton stole the show with his amazing passion and charisma, two key ingredients for any president.

He was in campaign mode but without the restraints of campaign mode. While there was clear bitterness on his part toward the successor who had rushed “to undo everything I’d done,” and the Republicans who “will run over you unless you beat their brains out,” there was a feisty humor too. Of the disputed Harken oil deal, Clinton said Bush had “sold the stock to buy the baseball team which got him the governorship which got him the presidency.”

Clinton kept referring to the media as (contrary to Kinsley’s view) the “supine” media, pointing out that when Bush insulted Helen Thomas (who, by asking a rough question in the infamous prewar press conference had, Clinton said, “committed the sin of journalism”), no “young journalists” stood up and walked out.

The media, the supine media, was going to have to “go to the meat locker and take out its brains and critical skills.”

Everybody seemed to love this. Clinton was not just the beloved former president, but he had become some sort of sassy oracle.

There was a party on the second day for Clinton…. This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conference—even the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clinton’s partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, “Good!” From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.

It was all anyone could talk about the next day. People seemed genuinely taken aback (some people kept offering that since it was late at night, in a bar, it didn’t quite count) that one of their own might have violated the accepted codes of lofty liberal behavior. There was a little current of fear at the sudden recognition that testosterone could fuel politics. It was a shock, apparently, that we might be this close to real feelings. That politics could actually be personal.

Why is there no one else in the Democratic Party who can do this? Where are the masters of rhetoric, the Marc Anthony’s who can inspire a revolution with their words? Where is the courageousness? The zeal, the spirit of truly contagious leadership?

Now on to part two of this post. I was intrigued to read just a few minutes ago that Matt Drudge says Clinton may indeed run for president. Not Bill Clinton, but his wife Hillary.

I have a lot of respect for Hillary, though I never found her to come anywhere near her husband in terms of speaking skills, leadership or sheer intelligence. Still, looking at the rather depressing roster of Democratic possibilities, this could really liven things up. (Wesley Clark seems like an interesting possibility as well, though from here it’s hard to gauge how Americans are reacting to him.)

Could Hillary be the one to add some much-needed fire to the race? I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Right now I can’t imagine Dean or Kerry actually beating Bush. Whoever’s going to stand a chance will have to be able to do what Bill Clinton did in the above example, ignite passion and inspire awe. Can Hillary do it? I’m not sure yet. But I’d sure like to find out. Please Hillary, throw your hat into the ring and show us what you can do.


Be careful what you wish for….

I really loved the opening grafs of Josh Marshall’s latest post:

Old lefties used to opine that you could never say that socialism or communisim had failed since they’d never really been tried. No need now to dip into that debate. But just before the start of the war I told a friend that you’d never be able to say the same about neoconservatism. This was really all their show, pretty much from soup-to-nuts. So at the end of the day the movement would either be vindicated in a very profound way or deeply discredited.

You’ll never again be able to say that the whole cluster of ideas, personnel and tactics never got a good field test.

This is why, quite honestly, I was always impressed with the sheer chutzpah of what Bush & Co. were doing in Iraq. I’m not saying it was good or bad, just that it took big balls. After all, the costs are mind boggling; not just the trillions of dollars, but the political costs and the costs to America’s reputation. Not to mention human lives. Unlike so many goings-on in world politics, it was ultimately going to be a matter of black and white: The neocons’ program would succeed or fail. They assured us they knew what they were doing, and Andrew Sullivan insisted we’d be greeted as true liberators and paradise would be regained.

I’m willing to give them more time, and I sincerely hope they can still pull it off, doubtful though that may now seem. If they do not, history will not be kind, and the neocons will lose just about all of their credibility. (They’ve pretty much lost it in my case.) If it all works, Bush will be utterly invincible. As always, the clock is ticking.


The talks with N. Korea in Beijing

To get the real story, you have to check out Incestuous Amplificiation’s pithy, perceptive and take-no-prisoners comments on the news coming out of Beijing. He manages to slash through the BS rhetoric and get to the heart of the matter. (What’s really disturbing is that apparently at the heart of the matter is a festering jealousy and resentment of the US on all sides.) Many of these comments are hilarious, especially his blasting to shreds the platitudinous soundbites dribbling from the spokespeople’s mouths.


Singapore branded as “pathetic”!

For some reason, until now, I never before made it over to Hemlock’s Diary, another HK expat site. It’s a great site, and definitely offbeat.

What caught my eye is a quasi-essay/laundry list of why Singapore is in reality “a pathetic place.” If you’re as lucky as I am and live in Singapore, this is a must-read. Even if you’re not so privileged, you’ll probably find it droll.

I was especially enchanted by his 8th reason for why Singapore is A Pathetic Place:

8. Singapore is famous for not being corrupt. It is true that if you are Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son you can become brigadier general after just five years in the army, and six months later you can become a member of parliament, and soon after that you can become deputy prime minister. And if you are the eldest son’s wife, you can be put in charge of the state holding company (it holds key interests in 40% of the stock market by market cap). And if you’re Lee’s number-two son, you can run the main Telecoms company. But that’s not corruption, or nepotism. That’s “meritocracy”. (No, that’s pathetic.)


The Chinese economy

Check out today’s article in the International Herald Tribunre on this complex and very strange topic. A taste:

But amid all the excitement, little attention is being paid to the risks. One of the biggest is China’s fragile financial system, which many observers believe harbors a bad-loan problem that dwarfs even Japan’s. You would think that when the legs on which an entire economy stands are shaky, investors would care. Few seem to.

Like Internet companies in the 1990’s, China is thought to be run by geniuses with boundless prospects. Companies that do not join in will miss capitalism’s greatest gold rush. But two developments this week serve as reminders that investing in China comes with risks, and big ones.

The reasons he cites are 1.) the attempts to bail out the banks, devastated by bad loans (a direct result of the state-owned enterprise fiasco) and 2.) attempts to increase reserve requirements on commercial banks. He doesn’t see imminent implosion, but he does see huge risks.

He also points out how suspicious the glowing numbers trotted out by the CCP ministries are; it is quite amazing that so many US firms and investors have been suckered by them. I love statistics in China, because they so precisely reflect the way things are done there (i.e., make the statistics say whatever will please The Party). Anyone remember the SARS “statistics” back in March, proving that the plague had been eradicated, with no cases in Beijing? As Santayana so pithily put it, those who forget the past….


CCP Orders China to Return to the Dark Ages

Breaking News:

John Pomfret, possibly the best foreign correspondent in China, has filed a bombshell story that tells us all just how sincere the Chinese Communist Party is about political/intellectual reforms in China.

I’ve been saying for months that the alleged “reforms” were all smoke and mirrors. It certainly looks like that’s the case:

After several months of permitting China’s intellectuals the freedom to call for political reform, ponder sweeping revisions to the constitution and consider changes in the official history of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Communist Party has reportedly ordered a stop to such debate, and security personnel have begun harassing leading academics, economists and legal scholars.

Some pro-CCP idealists were adamant that the new “openness” necessitated by the bungling of the SARS crisis in April signalled a permanent relaxing and liberalisation of the media. Would that it were so! I alway said they were forced into that openness after their lies about “no SARS in Beijing” were exposed to the world. I said freedom of the press was a myth in China. Now we are back to business as usual, i.e., repression and massive censorship.

In the past weeks, party organizations, research institutes and universities have been instructed to stop all conferences and suppress all essays about those three subjects, according to sources within the Communist Party. The Ministry of Propaganda has informed China’s news media there are other topics that can no longer be broached, the sources said.

At the heart of the shift back to the suppression of free thinking, Pomfret says, lies a political issue:

Chinese sources said the number and vociferousness of these demands [for reforms] had worried party officials, especially those close to Jiang Zemin, the former Communist Party boss. Jiang rose to power after the Tiananmen crackdown, and any change in the official version would undermine his legitimacy and that of people he placed in power.

More broadly, the effort to muffle debate about these issues appears to be part of a broader struggle between Jiang and his successor, Hu Jintao, according to the Chinese sources and analysts. Jiang and his allies, the sources said, generally oppose any political loosening. By contrast, Hu has portrayed himself as a friend of reformers and liberals.

Whatever the reasons, this is certainly no surprise. As always, the dictatorship is focused on its own survival. Too much light being shined under the rock would cause the entire creaky system to collapse like a house of cards. The only practical solution: extinguish the light.

It’s a smart short-term fix. Long-term, it’s just another piece of Scotch tape trying to cover up a massive whole in the dam. It’s just a matter of when that dam will finally burst and wash away the scheming, deceitful “leaders.”

I know, it sounds like wishful thinking; but I sincerely believe their days are numbered, if for no other reason than the economy. which is not nearly as robust as so many outside of China have chosen to believe. Manufacturing is strong, and cheap labor will help keep things looking rosy. But so many other areas of the China economy are built on sand. The clock is ticking.

[UPDATED at 8:45 pm, Singapore time]