On Rush Limbaugh’s “phony soldiers” quip

We all know Rush is a big fat idiot. See this amazing and heartbreaking post if you need further confirmation. In fact, even if you don’t, read it anyway. Devastating.


John Pomfret reviews “Fragile Superpower”

Longtime readers know Pomfret is one of my favorite reporters. The former Washington Post bureau chief here in Beijing, he’s now overseeing the paper’s bureau in Los Angeles, and it’s good to see him writing something about China once again. His review of Susan L. Shirk’s new book is thought provoking, to say the least.

Susan L. Shirk starts out her revelatory book on China with a nightmare scenario. A Chinese SU-27 fighter and a Taiwanese F-16 collide over the Taiwan Strait. The incident spirals out of control when the Chinese do what they always do in a crisis: blame the other guy. Demonstrations erupt in Beijing. Protesters demand that the Communist Party confront Taiwan and the United States. “When will China finally stand up?” read the signs. Washington scrambles as Beijing readies for war.

This brief, fictional opening frames Shirk’s book, dramatizing the possibility that China’s communist leadership could lurch into combat with Taiwan and the United States, which is obligated to defend the island nation under the Taiwan Relations Act. She sets out to explain why it is not a mere fantasy and why we, basically, need to be nice to China to keep the nightmare at bay.

At a time when much writing about China frothily presumes the unstoppable rise of a global titan, it is refreshing that a respected academic and former government official (Shirk was the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia during the second Clinton administration) questions the notion that China is going to run the world. “China may be an emerging superpower,” she writes, “but it is a fragile one.”

It’s clear almost immediately that Shirk and Pomfret share similar views of China, especially (it seems to me) the notion that the CCP is not all bad but more bad than good. The article spans some of the topics Pomfret wrote about himself in his excellent book Chinese Lessons – the government-inspired nationalism , further fomented by government-inspired loathing of the Japanese; the party’s obsession with remaining in power at any cost; and the notion that China is far less stable and far less likely to emerge as a true superpower than most of us are led to believe. (I wrote about Pomfret’s thoughts on these topics in an old post that’s still one of my favorites, even though it brought to this blog its most annoying troll ever.)

Pomfret praises the book but criticizes, it, too – quite harshly. In particular, he thinks she is exaggerating the risk of a war with the US (as do I) and I like the way he expresses this:

Squeeze China too much, she argues, and you’ll get World War III. But, historically, China has been a far more fragmented society than either Germany or Japan. Faced with a grave threat to their nation’s survival from the Japanese invasion that began in the ’30s, what did China’s elite do? They barely battled the Japanese and continued their civil war. One Chinese person is a dragon, a Chinese saying goes, but three of us are just an insect.

I’m still working, so I’ll have to leave it at that. You’ll want to read it all.


Burma, minute by minute

This is pretty amazing work. And depressing as all hell.


Burma Stirs

The Washington Post reports on the largest protests Burma has seen in a very long time.

Yesterday, more than 1,000 Buddhist monks marched peacefully along the rain-soaked streets of Burma’s largest city, with thousands of spectators encouraging their protest. At the head of the procession a monk carried an alms bowl turned upside down, symbolically refusing to accept any more support from the military regime, one of the world’s most repressive. In an overwhelmingly Buddhist Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people, this was a withering rebuke.

The echoes of the last great uprising, in 1988, must be alarming the country’s corrupt ruling generals — the roots in economic discontent and the slow stirrings from students to monks to the general population and from the capital to smaller cities across the nation.

As the article concludes, it’s time for some real focus on an issue that has been allowed to drag on far too long.

President Bush, who has spoken eloquently of Burma’s struggle for freedom, needs to engage in strenuous diplomacy — above all with China — to make clear that this is a U.S. priority. And China, which has more influence in Burma than any other country has, needs to decide whether it wants to host the 2008 Olympics as the enabler of one of the world’s nastiest regimes or as a peacemaker.

The US has been dancing to China’s tune in some respects in regards to Taiwan recently – Washington should make it clear it expects Beijing to scratch its back in return.

Further reports from the BBC and ABC News.


The BBC reports (Sunday) that 20,000 people took part in demonstrations today – now ordinary citizens are being encouraged to join.


Another event

After a big uptick in the number of posts last week, I have to yet again bring this blog to a screeching halt. I have a five-day event that starts tomorrow and continues through the weekend and will be offline until next Wednesday (but checking in now and then when possible). No choice.


That time of year again

About a week ago the temperature took a dramatic plunge downward. We had a few more hot days, but the nights now are cool, and today I saw a couple of people wearing jackets, an ominous sign of things to come. Last week only the most die-hard of the hundreds of migrant workers at the construction sites around my office were walking around shirtless; the week before they were the majority.

I guess if there were leaves in the part of Beijing where I live they’d be changing now. Everyone agrees, “Autumn is the nicest time of the year in China,” but it’s always too short. I remember walking up Tuan Jie Hu Lu (where I used to live) back in the fall of 2002 and wondering if any other part of China could be this beautiful. Even though the 3rd Ring Road and Gongti Beilu are seconds away, the lights and the neighborhood feel of Tuan Jie Hu made it seem like it was in another city, far from the noise and the traffic. It was in the first week of October and there was this huge copper harvest moon and I wanted to hold on to that moment forever.

I always get depressed when winter comes, and now I’m getting depressed in advance, knowing that Beijing’s beautiful autumn weather is famously ephemeral. Back in 2002, in the third or fourth week of October, winter suddenly dropped down on Beijing like an executioner’s axe, ushering in a winter that set new records for sub-freezing temperatures and snowfall. Ten weeks later or so, we began to read stories for the first time about a mysterious new sickness afflicting Hong Kong travelers, and it was all downhill from there. Six months later I’d watch on CCTV as the US marched into Iraq on a mission that was going to be over in a few weeks.

I hate the winter, but I believe the four distinct seasons do have a purpose. They remind us of the passing of time, putting it into useful perspective. It is the drop in temperature, for example, that causes me to remember it’s been nearly a year since that November day that I flew up to Beijing from Taiwan, believing it would just be a final visit before I moved back in a few weeks to America. And somehow, that little visit set off a chain of events that led me to do the one thing I swore I would never do, i.e., move back to Beijing.

So yes, it’s the weather and its seasons that remind us of the passing of time. In America, I live (not surprisingly) in Phoenix, where the seasons are far less defined – it’s always summer. As blissful as this is to someone like me who thrives on warmth, it’s also insidious. You are less aware of time passing because there are no seasons to act as markers along the way. Suddenly, you realize a lot more time went by than you realized.

Not quite sure how I got onto this, but let me see if there’s a graceful way to end this somewhat meaningless if heartfelt post…. All I wanted to say was that it’s that time of the year again, where summer is replaced by an infuriatingly short autumn, followed by an endless winter. It’s that time of the year, and it saddens me because to me warmth is safety and security, while cold is, well, just the opposite.

I went on long bicycle rides the past two weekends, exploring parts of Beijing I had only seen fleetingly from taxi windows. Winter is coming and I won’t be able to do that sort of thing much longer. I guess the best I can do is take every day of Autumn as a gift and savor it as best I can. Lots of bicycle rides. Maybe even a ride over to Tuan Jie Hu Lu, for old time’s sake. I hope it’s as beautiful and as secluded now as it was five years ago.


Thomas Friedman: China, Iraq and the US

Thomas Friedman actually has a mildly interesting column today [TimesSelect], though I’m not sure what his real point is. Simply put, he notes how delightful it is that China has been able these past six years to devote just about all of its time and energy and money to preparing for the Olympics, without worrying even a little bit about Iraq, without pouring half its treasury down the toilet to combat “global terrorism.” At the same time, not only was the US going insane over iraq and falling apart politically and economically, it was also going on a massive shopping spree, spending itself almost into oblivion. Writing from the WEF in Dalian:

I heard China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, address an international conference here in Dalian, and what impressed me most was how boring it was – a straightforward recitation of the staggering economic progress China has made in the last two decades and the towering economic, political and environmental challenges it still faces.

How nice it must be, I thought, to be a great power and be almost entirely focused on addressing your own domestic problems?

No, I have not gone isolationist. America has real enemies that China does not, and therefore we have to balance a global security role in places like the Middle East with domestic demands.

But something is out of balance with America today. Looking at the world from here, it is hard not to feel that China has spent the last six years training for the Olympics while we’ve spent ourselves into debt on iPods and Al Qaeda.

Friedman’s column is interesting but kind of bizarre. He quietly banged the drum for this war, always expressing caution (“we won’t know until six more months”) while making it clear the war had his support, until it didn’t. With this column, it’s pretty clear he’s given up. He says specifically of the Iraq debacle, ” We’re wasting our brains. We’re wasting our people. We’re wasting our future. China is not.”

China avoided all that, instead focusing on fuwas and Bird’s Nest stadiums and happy happy signs at the overhauled airport – a strategic decision that I respect (much as I loathe the creepy fuwas); China had a goal to reach and all of these steps were in keeping with it. As the war fucked us over and bled our spirits and our pocketbooks, China only moved forward. America’s goal fell apart; Soon no one even knew what we were fighting for.

No matter what you think of China’s goals and its methodologies, it can’t be denied that they set their sites on what they wanted (to redefine their nation through an Olympics unlike any other in sheer scale, scope and worldwide attention), funneled all their energy toward meeting the goal and so far have done a fairly impressive job (though that chapter is still being written). So Friedman looks at this rather amazing story, compares it to what America did over the same six years (i.e., fell to pieces) and bewails America’s paralysis, its feet caught in the quicksand of Iraq, while China forged ahead. And there’s something to say for this argument, though Friedman is coming around to it awfully late in the game.

Is this a bit two-faced of the sensible, prudent columnist? As mentioned, this was a war he wanted. Will we see more columns like this as he seeks to rehabilitate his image in the wake of America’s inevitable withdrawal without victory? I don’t now, but judging from the tone of this column – the first I can remember in which he sounds utterly resigned to defeat, with or without that magical “six more months” – I’d says that’s a pretty safe guess. When you read Thomas Friedman stating matter of factly that China has soared forward while America plummeted back, you know you’re seeing something of a tectonic shift.


Most Chinese people agree: Chinese rich people suck

Update: In looking over this post hours later, I think I just threw it up so that I could post something new, no matter the quality. That’s because of my time crunch. I really hate putting up posts that I later look at and say, “Did I really write that crap?” Maybe I threw it up because I felt guilty that I hadn’t written a single word about China for days. Anyway, my apologies – I can do a lot better.

I am so cynical about Internet polls, which are famously easy to rig and manipulate and often so unreflective of society as a whole. I’m even more cynical about China Daily polls (this was the first such poll I wrote about on this blog, nearly five years ago.) So when China Daily teams up with one of China’s major portals to perform a survey I look at its results with some skepticism. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this survey were accurate.

About 70 percent of Chinese regard the wealthy as immoral and unworthy of respect, according to a survey in the world’s biggest Communist state.

A poll of nearly 4,000 people by a Chinese Internet portal and a local newspaper found only 4 percent thought the rich were “good”, showing that a maxim widely attributed to prominent politician Deng Xiaoping “to get rich is glorious” holds little water for most respondents.

“A scarcity of positive images of rich people in society mirrors the many perceived drawbacks of the character and values of wealthy people,” the China Daily quoted the survey as saying.

“Some rich people are thought to have accumulated their wealth through illegal means, such as bribery,” it quoted Yuan Xiaoying, a post-graduate student, as saying.

“Rich people on the mainland invest too little in charity and gain too much,” according to An Xiaoze, a Beijing student.

Lots of rich people in lots of countries suck when it comes to giving back to society and abusing their position to avoid taxes, engage in corruption, etc. Just look at recently deceased billionaire Leona Helmsley, dubbed “the Queen of Mean” by her many detractors – she and her husband Harry simply couldn’t fathom the notion of charity. And she went to jail for tax evasion, poor thing.

Are China’s wealthy any worse than those in other countries? Is this just another phase for a developing country, one that will improve as the country develops? Is this just a big bunch of sour grapes? Or do most Chinese rich people suck?

I know, it’s a complex subject and there are no absolutes; there are all kinds of rich people here, and everywhere. So why the high level of animosity toward them here? I have my own ideas, and am curious to see what others have to say.


Michelle Malkin-Belsen to the Peking Duck: Screw You!

Welcome, Michelle Malkin readers!

I see Our Lady of the Concentration Camps has included me in her list of bad, bad leftists who hate America and long for its defeat. (Scroll down toward the end of this endless post to the graf beginning, “The leftists…”)

In this painfully sanctimonious post, Malkin yet again endorses the most vile of all the mindless Bush slogans, “We’re fighting them over there [Iraq] so we won’t have to fight them here.” I always marvel at this and wonder if anyone could really swallow such nonsense. The Iraqis are fighting an ancient and regional battle. Does anyone with even a fraction of a brain believe if we suffered defeat there that those trying to kill us would then attack us in America? How would they get here? Rowboats? Pogo sticks? What would they fight us with? How could they take on the world’s most powerful army on its own turf, where they have no local support? The mind reels at such an assertion. And yet Malkin clings to it with a religious zeal.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, Malkin readers. For more of my deep thoughts on Ms. Malkinwald, read some of my earlier posts about your goddess. (That last one is my very favorite.)


The “Surge”: A total and unmitigated defeat

Nothing about the so-called “surge” in Iraq was successful. Sure, in the areas where we poured in thousands of new troops there was a temporary drop in violence. D’uh. But that was not what the “surge” was intended to do. Let’s take a look at what the actual objective was.

The chief objective of the surge was to reduce violence enough that political leaders in Iraq could learn to work together, build a viable government and take decisions to improve Iraqi society, including sharing oil resources. Congress set benchmarks that Mr. Bush accepted. But after independent investigators last week said that Baghdad had failed to meet most of those markers, Mr. Crocker dismissed them. The biggest achievement he had to trumpet was a communique in which Iraqi leaders promised to talk more.

We failed to meet nearly all of our benchmarks, which somehow slipped down the memory hole, along with those weapons of mass destruction, and the Mission Accomplished banner. The fraud we are witnessing is staggering. We vent and go apoplectic over China fudging its statistics to show that black is white. Now look at the good general, trying to convince us we are cutting troops back. Well, technically we are, but it’s smoke and mirrors.

The headline out of General Petraeus’s testimony was a prediction that the United States should be able to reduce its forces from 160,000 to 130,000 by next summer. That sounds like a big number, but it would only bring American troops to the level that were in Iraq when Mr. Bush announced his ‘surge’ last January. And it’s the rough equivalent of dropping an object and taking credit for gravity. The military does not have the troops to sustain these high levels without further weakening the overstretched Army and denying soldiers their 15 months of home leave before going back to war.

The whole thing was an exercise in self-hypnosis. The usual Bush formula – create talking points, develop charts to prove them and then lie your ass off. Remember when they were upset that the decimation of the population of wild salmon would lead to greater anti-pollution controls? They cunningly insisted that the number of farm-raised salmon be added into the wild salmon population, and there you go – pure and total bullshit, a false conclusion, the hoodwinking of America, the bastardization of science, and yet somehow the slimeballs get away with it – because we let them get away with it.

When I see people swallowing the Petraeus claptrap, I wonder if we haven’t surrendered our critical faculties and thrown clarity and reason out the window. One more BS promise, one more call for “six more months” to bail out the Titanic with a thimble. Do we not remember all the turning points, all the previous promises that we had “broken the back of the insurgency” and victory was “around the corner”? How can we not remember, and how can we not be outraged?

It was just another of the broken promises and false claims of success that we’ve heard from Mr. Bush for years, from shock and awe, to bouquets of roses, to mission accomplished and, most recently, to a major escalation that was supposed to buy Iraqi leaders time to unify their nation. We hope Congress is not fooled by the silver stars, charts and rhetoric of yesterday’s hearing. Even if the so-called surge had created breathing room, Iraq’s sectarian leaders show neither the ability nor the intent to take advantage of it.

I am shocked to see intelligent people believing that the “surge” was in any way a success and that Iraq can now take advantage of its benefits and straighten out the tragic mess of the past four years. Self-hypnosis? I don’t know what else it can be, the lies are so glaring it’s impossible not to see them. Let’s see what one ultra-liberal netroots moonbat has to say about it

Those who today stridently insist that the surge has succeeded also say they are especially supportive of the president, Petraeus and the military generally. But at the beginning of the surge, both Petraeus and the president defined success in a way that took the achievement of success out of America’s hands.

The purpose of the surge, they said, is to buy time — “breathing space,” the president says — for Iraqi political reconciliation. Because progress toward that has been negligible, there is no satisfactory answer to this question: What is the U.S. military mission in Iraq?

… What “forced” America to go to war in 2003 — the “gathering danger” of weapons of mass destruction — was fictitious. That is one reason why this war will not be fought, at least not by Americans, to the bitter end. The end of the war will, however, be bitter for Americans, partly because the president’s decision to visit Iraq without visiting its capital confirmed the flimsiness of the fallback rationale for the war — the creation of a unified, pluralist Iraq.

After more than four years of war, two questions persist: Is there an Iraq? Are there Iraqis?

Iraq is an artificial nation created by colonial powers and held together in the past by brute force. The “Iraqis” are a group of sects determined to annihilate one another. The only reason some Sunni leaders decided recently to team up with America instead of butchering us was that they realized Al Qaeda was even worse – but that is a tenuous relationship at best, and we all know they will go back to butchering us once the Shiites move ahead consolidating power and teaming up with Iran.

Oh, and that leftist quoted above is none other than George Will.

We have been defeated in Iraq and there’s no two ways about it. All we’re waiting for is Bush’s departure so he can then blame it on someone else, like stab-in-the-back liberals. We aren’t buying time for the Iraqi leaders, we are buying time for Bush. We are buying this time with our soldiers’ blood and our own tax dollars, all for naught, all for Bush’s childish vanity and limitless hubris.

As one blogger puts it:

This has been said a million times in a million different ways, but the whole point of this exercise is to ensure that Bush’s war continues until it’s time for him to cut brush permanently. The surge can’t have worked because then it could start ending, and the surge can’t be not working because then it would a tragic waste of lives and money, so the surge is working just a little bit.. but might work a little bit more soon!

Six more months, that’s all we need, just six more months….