Heckuva Job, Brownie!

Why does this not surprise me?

Brown told a group of graduate students Friday that some in the White House had suggested the federal government should take charge in Louisiana because Blanco was a Democrat, while leaving Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, in control in his state…

…”Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, ‘We had to federalize Louisiana because she’s a white, female Democratic governor, and we have a chance to rub her nose in it,'” he said, without naming names. “‘We can’t do it to Haley (Barbour) because Haley’s a white male Republican governor. And we can’t do a thing to him. So we’re just gonna federalize Louisiana.'”…

…Blanco reacted sharply to Brown’s remarks.

“This is exactly what we were living but could not bring ourselves to believe. Karl Rove was playing politics while our people were dying,” Blanco said through a spokeswoman, referring to Bush’s top political strategist. “The federal effort was delayed, and now the public knows why. It’s disgusting.”

Every time I hear something like this, I’m reminded of how a former Bush Administration official once characterized the Bush White House:

“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus… What you’ve got is everything – and I mean everything – being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

Everything is political. Nothing else matters. Except maybe marketing. Think back to Sept. 2002, in the run-up to the 2002 midterm elections, as the Bush Administration made its case for the Iraq War. Why now, some asked, eleven years after the Gulf War, with Saddam Hussein’s regime crippled by sanctions, kept in a box by no-fly zones? White House chief of staff Andrew Card had the answer:

“From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”


Now That’s Class (or, Why Rui Chenggang is a Dick)


image from International Workers of the World, via Eyeteeth

“the Forbidden City is a symbol of China’s cultural heritage. Starbucks in a symbol of lower middle class culture in the west. We need to embrace the world, but we also need to preserve our cultural identity. There is a fine line between globalisation and contamination.”

– Rui Chenggang, culture warrior

“researcher analyszed the examination result of year 2003 student from a high school in Beijing and discovered that lower class family’s entrance examin result is higher than upper class. The average marks from high to low are: peasant, unemployment workers, small individual business, workers, white collar, management and technical… the lowest average mark, 571.3, are from management and technical background family, which is 38.8 marks lower than the average mark, 610.1, from rural background family…”

“研究人员在对北京某高校2003级429名学生的 高考录取分数统计中发现,低阶层家庭子 女的平均录取分数普遍高于高阶层的子女。平均分从高到低依次 为:农 民、下岗人员、个体经营者、工人、职员、中高层管理 人员和技术人员,与他们的社会地位大致相反。平均分最低的是高级 管理技术人员阶层子女,为571.3 分,比农民阶层子女的 平均分610.1 低38.8分,比下岗失业人员阶层低35分,比工人阶层低26.2分。”

– Quote from Xue Yong’s blog 薛涌:反智的书生, translated by Oiwan Lam at Global Voices Online

“It was reported that at the special meeting of cadres held by the county party and government, the county party secretary Wang Wei faced more than 100 county officials and then said that the death of Yang Daili was as important as a fart! So the death of a service worker is a fart of a matter? The life of a commoner is a fart of a matter? This is so sad that the people of Dazhu county should have such a county leader of such quality!”

“据说在县委政府专门开的领导 干部大会上,县委书记王伟面对几百名全县的官员们两次振振有 词的讲,杨代莉死是屁大点的事!人命关天.死的是个服务员 就是屁大的事?老百姓的命就当个屁?可悲呀, 为大竹县上百万 的老百姓有这样高素质的县大老 爷感到可悲!”

CYOL BBS comment regarding the death of a 16 year old girl at a “black” hotel in Dazhu, Sichuan translated by ESWN

“So what are you going to do about it! This is the age of money can buy anything.”


– comment on Netease reported on Danwei regarding Starbucks

“Mr Rui is already considering his next target: American Express sponsorship signs. “I really loathe them. The introduction to every site says, ‘Made possible by American Express’. It is as if the Mona Lisa had a label saying, ‘Made possible by the People’s Bank of China’,” Mr Rui said.”

The Guardian, again.

“Lifting a rock only to drop it on one’s own feet” is a Chinese folk saying to describe the behavior of certain fools. The reactionaries in all countries are fools of this kind.”

” “搬起石头打自己的脚”,这是中国人形容某些蠢人的行为的一名俗话。 各国反 动派也就是 这样的 一 批蠢人。”

– Mao Zedong

picture of the “black” hotel in Sichuan burning, courtesy again of ESWN


Bad, bad Bill O’Reilly

A Vermont newspaper columnist exposes O’Reilly (as if we didn’t already know) as the sensationalist, smearing sleazeball fucktard that falafel man is. A must for all Faux News critics.


Chinese Pod

I haven’t been able to log on once since I arrived here. Is it still there? Is it just my computers (at my hotel and at my office) or are others having the same problem?


Fa Piao Question

Okay, I found my Beijing dream apartment. We agreed on a price and my most important demand, a receipt – a formal fa piao that can be shown to the government as proof that I’m actually paying the rent. For arcane reasons, this fa piao is crucial, as it helps to lower my income tax.

Well, we had agreed on everything, and then the day before I’m supposed to sign I start getting text messages from my real estate agent: The landlord wants me to put down a two-month deposit and to pay three months’ rent up-front! And he won’t give me the fa piao – the greedy sucker doesn’t want to pay the tax (the receipt goes to the government, telling them the landlord is earning taxable income from his property).

Now the real estate agent is assuring me her company will print an official fa piao for me with the landlord’s name on it and that’ll work just fine. All I have to do is pay a couple hundred RMB to her (because they’ll have to pay it to the government in tax) and she’ll give me the monthly receipt. But my boss/friend, who’s been here about 15 years, tells me that’s bullshit and that if the government doesn’t honor it I’m shit out of luck the minute I sign the contract and I should walk away from the whole thing – a landlord who’s too sleazy to provide a receipt can’t be trusted, he says.

Damn. I really like the place, and I successfully negotiated the rent down to what I wanted. I don’t mind paying the small charge to the agent for the fa piao, but if I do that and then find out it’s worthless, I’m royally screwed. Is there an expert in the house who can advise? I have 17 hours before I meet the landlord to sign the lease….

Looking for an apartment in Beijing is a depressing affair. The real estate people make all their money from the commission and have zero incentive to help you get the lowest price. There’s gotta be a better way to find a place to live.


What? No latte?

A Starbucks outlet in the Forbidden City (or the Palace Museum, if you’d prefer) may be forced out, after a CCTV anchorman declared the coffee house “undermined the Forbidden City’s solemnity and trampled over Chinese culture,” on his blog.

Unlike all those souvenir stands, “art” exhibits and snackbars, which clearly exemplify the highest flowering of the Qing Dynasty.

I’ll admit, I was pretty appalled when I first heard that there was a Starbucks on the Imperial City grounds (though the article says it opened in 2000, I swear it was there in Dec. 1999, my first trip back to Beijing in 20 years). But when I actually saw the store, I couldn’t get too worked up about it. If you haven’t been there, the Starbucks is tucked into a small, traditional gallery, and is actually rather easy to miss.

Besides, it was freezing cold that day, and yeah, I had a double espresso, and I liked it.


A New Way to Censor CNN?

China may (or may not) have developed a satellite killer missile, according to Aviation Week:

U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite (asat) weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude Jan. 11 destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile…

Although more of a “policy weapon” at this time, the test shows that the Chinese military can threaten the imaging reconnaissance satellites operated by the U. S., Japan, Russia, Israel and Europe.

The article ends with this suggestion as to its possible uses:

The Republic of China also operates a small imaging spacecraft that can photograph objects as small as about 10 ft. in size, a capability good enough to count cruise missiles pointed at Taiwan from the Chinese mainland. The Taiwanese in the past have also leased capability on an Israeli reconnaissance satellite.

In a flash of cuteness, China Daily republished the article without contributing anything new.

China Matters picks up this idea, pointing out that besides Japan and India missile defense plans, the leading missile defense proponents, the United States, could theoretically use missile defense in a Taiwan conflict:

Probably, the whole Missile Defense thing is an effort to knock down the (relatively) strongest leg of the shaky Chinese nuclear deterrent triad, its ICBMs.

And that means China is left without a credible riposte to U.S. use of tactical nuclear weapons to forestall an invasion of Taiwan.

The argument being that taking out recon satellites would leave any missile defense system useless, since they need satellites for targeting and JIT delivery. Personally, I think this takes it all two steps farther than it should. Such a capability would be useful since it could cripple the information gathering power of satellites, whether that data is applied to missile defense, cruise missiles, smart bombs or simply monitoring troop deployments. Going the extra mile of applying it to a Taiwan scenario or, even more of a reach, the use of tactical nukes seems unnecessary and alarmist.

Defense Tech points out

“if this anti-sat weapon was really “kinetic” — i.e., hit-to-kill, non-explosive — instead of a plain ol’ exploding weapon, that’s extremely bad news. That means the booster rocket has to be very accurate “in order to deliver the kill vehicle to the desired initial trajectory…. Then the kill vehicle needs to tweak its trajectory into a precise collision course using on-board propulsion and either on-board target tracking or… command guidance from the ground.” That’s no mean task.”

In other words, it’d be a hell of a technical coup for China. One commenter at Defense Tech, Satellite Pete, has a nice comment pointing out:

Sinosat-2, the first of a new series of jamming-resistant satellites which emerged in 2002 after the Falun Gong jamming episodes, reminds us that China probably must be quite fearful that through some creative plotting, a significant disruption of Olympics coverage might occur, involving satellite feeds and sliced fiber optic cables or both.

The US and its allies have issued a statement of concern, but its not clear what exactly has happened. I’m going to keep my eye on ArmsControlWonk Jeffrey Lewis – he’s watching the satellite data and will most likely be blogging about any debris clouds. If it is a kill rocket, though, I’m with Satellite Pete: why would China cause a ruckus with a test like this now?

UPDATE: ArmsControlWonk weighs in, noting that the debris cloud is “a god awful mess” and that US ASAT (anti-satellite) programs were scrapped exactly because of this debris, which could damage other satellites (US ones). Defense Tech also has numerous details, including John Pike of Globalsecurity.org expecting more tests as China perfects the technology. Won’t creating more space garbage be a hazard to China’s future satellites? If it really is a hazard to other space vehicles, isn’t China just increasing the chance that their moon shot is scrambled by one of 2 million mm thick fragments? I’m with Jeffrey on this one: the whole thing seems stupid and pointless.


ArmsControlWonk points out Japan and Australia are demanding explanations from the Chinese government. They seem more worked up, and I wonder if this is because, as Defense Tech points out, “this test demonstrates the capability to achieve a velocity error on the order of 3 meters / ~1000 seconds, i.e., way less than 1 cm per second. This has obvious implications for their CEPs [Circular Error Probables, the accuracy] of Chinese ballistic missiles.” So this means China’s ballistic missiles are more accurate than perhaps previously believed, whether shooting at satellites (this one had a course correction, so they cheated a little) or at ground targets. James Oberg, a 22 year Mission Control veteran, writes at MSNBC about the technical and the political. The US has avoided a space weapon ban treaty and China is probably using this to demand one. Unfortunately, since “outer space” is tough to define and there can be dual-purpose satellites (GPS, for one), its hard to imagine how a treaty could be written and work. A common theme these articles share I’ll repeat is that there’s no arms race here, though that framing will likely persist. Countermeasures are extraordinarily difficult to make effective, and shooting down Chinese satellites just won’t be eye for an eye. More like toenail for a leg, since China has an asymmetric advantage here. The US could flood the sky with auxillary and decoy satellites, but when you’re talking about something like GPS I don’t see how you could make the signal identifiable to one side and not the other. Even if the US floods the skies with space weapons, it’s hard to imagine China matching the US tit-for-tat like a true arms race. It isn’t hard to see them developing asymmetric ways to disable US space weapons like this one, but that would be purely defensive, as opposed to Chinese weapons orbiting US territory.

On the other side of the Pacific, the US Navy now has a friggin’ real-life rail gun. Like “hitting a target with a Ford Taurus at 380 mph”. The Chinese rail-gun is expected to hit a target like a Chery at 100 kph.

Sorry, Dave, but please don’t open new entries so soon after the first. Raj


Block Check: Guinness World Records

Is it just my crappy Internet connection, or is Guinness Book of World Records website blocked in China? I get by with a proxy, but I’d like to know if this is true for others.

Why block Guinness World Records?


China from the Inside

Damn, I wish I could be back in the US to see this. There’s a lot of good browsing to be had over at that link. Go there now.

Thanks to the reader for the tip, and thanks to PBS for continuing to do great things even as the current administration tries to choke it off.


Cover-up of a reporter’s murder in Shanxi

The story of the Chinese news reporter beaten to death while investigating China’s famously lethal coal mines is showing all the signs of a classic cover-up with Chinese characteristics (check out the charges that he was “a fake reporter”). You can read about the cover-up here, and about the background of the story here. I don’t always agree with ESWN, but there’s no question he’s an invaluable resource. That first link above is an absolute must-read, an angry and ironic and merciless denunciation of the government’s cover-up process. I can’t thank ESWN enough for this translation. And huge thanks to Southern Daily for once again living up to their well-earned reputation.

I hope this story gains traction. We are talking about a news reporter murdered for investigating a scandal, the kind of crime no serious government can tolerate without a serious investigation and search for justice. Luckily the story is already seeping into the international media.

Communist Party censors strictly control the Chinese press, but even state-controlled media have seized on Lan’s death, raising questions about local officials’ conduct, Lan’s motives, and the rights of the country’s beleaguered reporters.

“For a reporter to be beaten to death is undoubtedly a major event in a world that venerates democracy and freedom of information,” said a comment on the Web site of the Southern Daily (www.southerncn.com).

“Any country that even slightly values citizens’ right to know and freedom of the press would actively and appropriately investigate and deal with this case.”

Shanxi officials have said Lan was not an accredited reporter – he was just two weeks into a trial period with the paper – and suggested that he might have been seeking to extort payoffs in return for not reporting problems at the mine, the China Youth Daily reported.

Right; it was the bad unaccredited fake reporter who was there doing all the bad things, and he kind of got what was coming to him. Again, you have to read the first link above. Here’s an excerpt, then I’ll let it go; I promised not to post tonight but it’s not easy to stop. Worse than cigarettes.

[T]he most urgent task was to deny the identify of the deceased. This will minimize public attention while diverting attention from the safety issue at coal mines. When the incident loses its news value, its impact will be smaller and the superiors are less likely to interview. So the relevant Datong city departments kept emphasizing that this was just a ‘fight’ and an ordinary crime. They insisted that the deceased was not a reporter, because the conditions of the relevant regulations about reporters have not been met, etc. Thus, Lan Chengchang died at the hands of thugs, but the principal reason was that the local news environment was disorderly and the reporters were a mixed lot. As to why the local news environment is disorderly and why there are so many fake reporters, the relevant departments will probably dodge the answer. After a few more evasions, the potentially key question of supervising mine safety will probably disappear. Furthermore, it is possible to clamp down on the various news media so that there will be fewer worries in the future. At this point, I have to say, “Brilliant! That is really brilliant!”

Yes, brilliant. This lacerating cry of rage is ingenious, a spoof of a diabolical blueprint, a spreadsheet for how to be evil. Paid for with your tax dollars. But remember, it’s no spoof – whoever carried it out really did think along these lines. Government of the people, by the people and for the people…

I’ll let you all know if there are any strange knocks on my hotel room door in the middle of the night.

Update: Let me add one amendment to this story. I am not blaming the central party directly for this sort of atrocity (so please don’t knock on my door). It has little control over these local situations. But that doesn’t let it off the hook altogether. It’s the patronage system, intrinsic to the party’s survival, that makes cracking down on such outrages nearly impossible. A real pity. If they could achieve, Lee Kuan Yew-style, this one thing – the implementation of a meaningful system of enforced rule of law – I might (with lots of caveats) become a champion of the party. Of course, if Chinese men all stopped smoking….