Bob Herbert: The War Machine

Keep the wars coming. They help make the rich get richer.

Ike Saw It Coming
Published: February 27, 2006

Early in the documentary film “Why We Fight,” Wilton Sekzer, a retired New York City police officer whose son was killed in the World Trade Center attack, describes his personal feelings in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.

“Somebody had to pay for this,” he says. “Somebody had to pay for 9/11. … I wanna see their bodies stacked up for what they did. For taking my son.”



Paul Krugman: Rising Oligarchy

Be sure to read about the soaring wealth of the 99th percentile. Shocking. Exactly what the Founding Fathers didn’t want to happen, and proof that the estate tax shouldn’t be abolished – it should be increased.

Graduates Versus Oligarchs
Published: February 27, 2006

Ben Bernanke’s maiden Congressional testimony as chairman of the Federal Reserve was, everyone agrees, superb. He didn’t put a foot wrong on monetary or fiscal policy.

But Mr. Bernanke did stumble at one point. Responding to a question from Representative Barney Frank about income inequality, he declared that “the most important factor” in rising inequality “is the rising skill premium, the increased return to education.”



Harmony über Alles!

Feel the irony.

China, which this week warned officials they would be punished for covering up pollution, has detained after he sent text messages telling people of a new case of water pollution, media reported on Thursday.

Zhou Qinghai was detained by police for “reporting faulty alarms and making chaos” in Mudanjiang in northeastern Heilongjiang province, the scene of the country’s worst water pollution in recent years after an explosion at a chemical pant in November in neighbouring Jilin.

Zhou sent text messages warning people of a possible water cutoff for three or four days after he overheard people talking on a bus about the contamination of the city water source and saw reports by local media questioning the quality of water, the Beijing News said.

He was detained this week, the newspaper said, without saying if he would be charged or giving other details.

The “faulty information” had caused “bad social influence”, and city residents had been rushing to buy and store water since Monday after an unidentified pollutant was found in the water supply.

Xinhua news agency later identified it as a fungus caused by industrial waste.

Every time I want to congratulate China for a reform, like forbidding officials to cover up pollution, I get brought back to reality, where I need to face the fact that the “reform” was nothing more than a PR announcement dreamed up by some hack in a dreary Beijing office.


Nicholas Kristof: Port Scaremongers

Kristof’ points are true enough, but let’s not forget the keypoint: All this ridiculous hysteria was caused by Bush’s own fear-mongerng of swarthy men who want to destroy America. You reap what you sow. I hope the Dems use this to the fullest, the way Karl Rove has similarly used the flimsiest of excuses to tar the Dems as weak and pro-errorism.

The Arabs Are Coming!
Published: February 26, 2006

Port terminals have been managed, without alarm, by companies from Britain, China, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. So let’s look at the arguments of those who believe we should discriminate against Arabs…

Look, Kristof, if this is discrimination against Arabs, that’s because it was Arabs who attacked us on 9/11 and still threaten us today. If Singaporeans were plotting to set off nuclear explosions in American cities, then we’d scrutinize them, too.



Sarah Vowell: When Bush Falls in Love


When Bush Falls in Love
Published: February 26, 2006

The charges of cronyism against the current administration have piled up higher than the rotting rubble in New Orleans: “Heck of a job, Brownie,” is fast replacing “Way to go, Einstein” as the wiseacre-to-dummy put-down du jour. And what of Harriet Miers, the good friend/lame nominee for the Supreme Court the president defended as “plenty bright.”



Talk Talk China’s Love Affair with Hong Kong

Feel the love for yourself! Great post and great comments, as always.

While just about every point he makes is accurate, I really do love Hong Kong. Yeah, it’s a rude, ruthless place, but it’s also the most fun city in Asia along with Bangkok, and there’s never a dull moment there. I love Taiwan, but like Singapore, there are very few surprises living here. In Hong Kong, anything can happen, and there are always surprises (like having your phone stolen from someone you knew was your friend.) Hong Kong is one surprise after another. And I’m the kind of guy who enjoys surprises.


Green Power?

China’s State Environmental Protection Agency, SEPA, announced a series of new guidelines Tuesday that aim to strengthen enforcement of environmental regulations, specifically, to crack down on the local corruption that has so frequently led to flaunting of China’s own regulations. The LA Times reports:

The new rules say that officials who fail to shut down projects that cause widespread pollution, reduce or cancel fees imposed on those who illegally discharge industrial waste, or cover up environmental accidents will be disciplined. The exact nature of the punishment was unclear. The government said it would range from disciplinary warnings to dismissal.

Environmentalists said the announcement was a good sign that Beijing recognizes the urgency of adopting a more sustainable development policy.

“The Chinese government knows if we continue at this pace of development, the harm to the environment can only be greater,” said Kevin May, toxics campaign manager with Greenpeace China based in the southern city of Guangzhou. “There have always been laws, but very little enforcement. Now we have new laws. How will they be different? That remains to be seen.”

To show that this time it means business, Beijing also last week announced Cabinet-level directives to clean up the country’s damaged environment in the next 15 years. At the top of the agenda is improvement of the nation’s water, air and soil quality. By the government’s own admission, most of China’s rivers are polluted and more than a third of the country is ravaged by acid rain…

… “China went from the relentless pursuit of class struggle to GDP [gross domestic product] growth; now it’s environmental protection and the so-called green GDP,” said Zhou Xiao- zheng, a sociologist at People’s University in Beijing. “Officials who want to get promoted will follow whatever the new slogan is. Why not? They don’t want to breathe bad air or drink dirty water either.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Beijing has issued nice-sounding rhetoric with no teeth behind it. But beyond the health issues and the threat to economic development caused by China’s environmental devastation, it may the the threat to social security that lends this push towards greater enforcement its urgency:

“The issue of pollution has become a ‘blasting fuse’ of social instability,” Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, told the New China News Agency last week, referring to the rising number of public protests over the country’s environmental problems.

Another major component of these regulations is that, for the first time, they provide a mechanism for public input into the decision-making process. The always invaluable Three Gorges Probe reports:

The State Environmental Protection Administration’s highly anticipated new measures, which take effect on March 18, are explicitly aimed at ushering in an era of openness in a traditionally secretive sphere.

“This is the first official document on public involvement in the environmental sector, which will make government decisions in the sector more transparent and democratic,” Xinhua quoted SEPA deputy director Pan Yue as saying.

The official news agency reported that construction managers and environmental protection departments “will be obliged to consult public opinion” on a project’s potential environmental impacts. It quotes the guidelines as saying that this involvement of the public must be conducted in “an open, equal, extensive and convenient way.”

The concept of public participation in project decision-making has been on the books in China since the Environmental Impact Assessment Law came into force on Sept. 1, 2003.

But how the process was supposed to work in practice remained unclear, and people whose lives were turned upside down for major projects continued to have no input into the schemes or access to information about them.

“The lack of transparency in decision-making has resulted in disputes on environmental impact and even mass unrest after the completion of many construction projects,” Mr. Pan told Xinhua.

Five methods are to be used to facilitate public participation in the EIA process: opinion surveys, expert panels, forums or informal discussions, feasibility studies and hearings.

“And after a hearing has been held, the construction unit or organizing agency should append explanations that detail the reasons for accepting or rejecting the comments made by the public,” Mr. Pan told People’s Daily.

Activists in China’s burgeoning environmental sector, who have become increasingly vocal in advocating for the rights of communities affected by potentially harmful projects, welcomed SEPA’s guidelines.

Wang Yongchen, a journalist and founder of the Beijing-based Green Earth Volunteers, said the new measures give her hope because, for the first time in China, they legitimize the public’s right to participate in environmental protection.

“The institutionalization of public participation in the EIA process is a sign of progress and a reflection of social change,” she told Shanghai’s Morning Post (Xinwen chenbao).

(For an amazing interview with Pan Yue from last year, go here.)

It’s a fascinating and frustrating paradox that at the same time the central government cracks down hard on media and public discourse, it is encouraging, in however limited a manner, public participation in the environmental review process of projects that could have a profound effect on their communities and lives.

I’ve said it before: the environmental movement has the potential to be a democratizing force in China. It has that potential because it does not present a direct political challenge to a one-Party state. But any movement that allows people to organize, to articulate their desires and present their grievances, that offers the opportunity to participate in civic life, that kind of movement changes peoples’ perceptions of what their role in society ought to be.

(For a totally different “democratic” experiment in China, check out Philip Pan’s excellent piece on the creation and development of the Chinese language Wikipedia. It will really brighten your day!)


Paul Krugman: Osama and Ports

Why the ports issue is getting so much attention.

Osama, Saddam and the Ports
Published: February 24, 2006

The storm of protest over the planned takeover of some U.S. port operations by Dubai Ports World doesn’t make sense viewed in isolation. The Bush administration clearly made no serious effort to ensure that the deal didn’t endanger national security. But that’s nothing new — the administration has spent the past four and a half years refusing to do anything serious about protecting the nation’s ports.



Thomas Friedman: War of the Worlds

Perspective: The news of civil war in Iraq is more important than the nonsense over the ports deal with the UAE.

War of the Worlds
Published: February 24, 2006

Since 9/11, whenever the Bush team has found itself in political trouble, it has played the national security card against Democrats. It has worked so well that Karl Rove, in a recent speech to the Republican National Committee, made it a campaign theme for 2006.

He said America today faces “a ruthless enemy” and therefore needs “a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats.”



Do the crime, do the time

I was disappointed to see that China has allowed to go free a former journalist who committed the ultimate offense – defacing the image of Mao. This man poses a threat to all of us, and now that he is out, no one is safe.

A Chinese journalist was freed Wednesday after spending nearly 17 years in prison for splattering paint on a portrait of Mao during the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, a family member and a human rights advocate said.

The journalist, Yu Dongyue, now 38, and two friends hurled eggs filled with red paint at the famous painting of Mao, which still stares at Tiananmen Square from across the street, where it hangs above the entrance to the Forbidden City. Mr. Yu and his family are expected to reunite in Hunan Province on Thursday, but his younger brother said the family was deeply concerned about Mr. Yu’s mental health.

“He no longer recognizes me,” said Yu Xiyue, the brother, who made a prison visit last year. In 2004, Reporters Without Borders, the journalism advocacy group, said Mr. Yu had gone insane as a result of torture in prison.

Don’t be sentimental as you read the descriptions of this rightist going mad from years of torture and solitary confinement. He was 21 years old when he committed his treasonous act, he knew what he was doing. He sought to split apart the Chinese people and disrupt the harmony that binds us. One people, one party, one voice.

Especally be suspicious of the whinings of John Kamm, an enemy of China who seeks to protect those who would threaten the established order – the very order that has brought China unparalleled success and made it a great superpower. Kamm’s snivelling, maudlin attempts to pull at our heartstrings are despicable.

Mr. Kamm said Mr. Yu’s return to society would be tightly restricted, as is the case with all freed political prisoners. He will not have any political rights and will be forbidden to work at a university or any state-owned enterprise. He is also prohibited from speaking to news organizations.

“He will be, for the rest of his life, a targeted person,” Mr. Kamm said.

Mr. Yu had worked as a reporter and art critic for Liuyang News, a local paper in Hunan. In 2004, Lu Decheng, one of the two friends arrested with Mr. Yu, visited him in prison and told Radio Free Asia that he was “barely recognizable.”

Mr. Yu had “a totally dull look in his eyes, kept repeating words over and over as if he were chanting a mantra,” Mr. Lu said, adding: “He had a big scar on the right side of his head. A fellow prisoner said Yu had been tied to an electricity pole and left out in the hot sun for several days. He was also kept in solitary confinement for two years, and that was what broke him.”

Well, well, well, Mr. Kamm, why don’t you be good enough to tell us why Yu shouldn’t be a “targetted man” for the rest of his life? None of your mawkish claptrap, larded with bourgeois sentimentality, can alter the fact that he sought to deface an image of the man who gave China its backbone. He was given a fair trial and legal representation, and his too-lenient sentence was determined within the framework of the law. China is a nation of laws. Don’t sit there in your posh American office and tell us how to run our country.

Mr. Hu, I urge you to re-imprison Mr. Yu. The sickness that motivated him is a thousand times more lethal than bird flu. Bird flu is a disease of the skin, Mr. Yu’s splittist treason is a disease of the heart. How sad, to see our leaders get weak at the knees due to foreign pressure and hooligans like John Kamm.