The Peking Duck and its threads are closed

[Update: You can now follow Richard on Twitter.]

It may be a few weeks, it may be longer. I have goals to meet and decisions to make and I can’t focus on priorities when I have to keep running to the PC to police comments and scour the Web for the latest news to opine on. I kind of wish I’d done this earlier; the last few posts haven’t been my most sparkling.

I’ll be back, I know that. I have some big posts incubating, but now is not the time. I have to turn the whole thing off for at least a month. The only exception will be if one of the guest bloggers decides to put something up. Until then, there are many other blogs to visit, and you can find my recommendations over to the left. Thanks for joining me, and goodbye for now.


Thomas Friedman resigns in disgrace

His best column ever. (Of course, there’s a catch.)



Happy Birthday, Liu Shaoqi

After realizing I meet China’s official criteria for Internet addiction, I’m trying to resist the urge to stay online and look for things to blog about. This post, however, jumped out at me. It’s short but pregnant with examples of China’s sloppy, propagandistic unique approach to journalism. And it’s funny, too.


The thread.

Please keep it 100-percent LDS-free and FLG-free. Otherwise, discuss what you’d like. Everything related to the financial crisis and China’s stimulus package should go in the thread immediately below. Thanks.

Potential topics:
Shouldn’t every family have at least one gun?
The pope praises Ma for working with China (blocked in the PRC)
China’s “human flesh search engines” get global attention


China’s Half-Trillion-Dollar+ Stimulus Package

We all knew this was coming. None of us knows whether it will work, and as I pointed out last week, there are some very different schools of thought on the topic. From today’s Times:

In a sweeping move at a time when major projects are being put off around the world, Beijing said it would spend an estimated $586 billion by 2010 on wide array of national infrastructure and social welfare projects, including constructing new railways, subways, airports and rebuilding communities devastated by an earthquake in southwest China in May.

The package, announced by the State Council Sunday evening, is the largest economic stimulus effort ever undertaken by the Chinese government and would amount to about 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product during each of the next two years.

Beijing also said it was loosening credit and encouraging lending as part of a more “pro-active fiscal policy.”

“Over the past two months, the global financial crisis has been intensifying daily,” the State Council said in its statement. “In expanding investment, we must be fast and heavy-handed.”

The stimulus plan would be enormous for any country, let alone one whose gross domestic product is lower than most other major industrialized countries, at around $3.5 trillion this year. Earlier this year, the United States Congress passed a $700 billion bailout package in a country with an economy whose size is close to $14 trillion.

One prominent American blogger looks with envy at China’s ability to pony up such a staggering sum and laments America’s inability to fill its own coffers to handle emergencies like this and mostly blames Bush, which isn’t that simplistic considering we were in the black when he took office.

During boom times, China amassed budget surpluses and built up reserves. Now, during a downturn, they’re able to respond with a huge spending initiative at a time when (a) such spending is needed to keep the economy going, and (b) the downturn makes it cheaper than it would otherwise be to complete such projects….Bush took the situation and decided on a combination of irresponsible tax cuts for the Americans who needed them least, an enormously expensive new war whose massive costs involved little if any productive investment for the future, and homeland security spending much of which (like complicated-yet-pointless enhanced airport security) mostly serves as a minor drag on economic activity.

Please note this isn’t to blame only Bush for the financial collapse itself – only for bankrupting the Treasury before the crisis even hit and making a China-like solution far more difficult.

On the other side of the coin, a prominent Chinese blogger who blogs in Chinese sent me his thoughts on China’s stimulus package via email. A fascinating perspective:

I do NOT think those infrastructure investment from Chinese govnerment is the solution to the coming Great Depression. The reason is very simple: if common Chinese people still are reluctant to make consumption instead of save money in the future, every policy stimulus is useless. The only effective way to fight the crisis is to make the poor have more money to spend, but this is the last thing Chinese government will do.

Actually, I hope the crisis will bring us a revolution.

Well. That sure opens up a barrel of questions.

As I said in my earlier post, if this crisis really hits China as hard as some of my readers believe, and if the government handles the stimulus package as dreadfully as it’s handled some other crises, revolution, however unlikely, is not inconceivable. The consensus in the earlier thread was that revolution was not in the cards, as the CCP has already demonstrated its willingness to send in the tanks.

I can’t go quite as far as my fellow blogger and hope for revolution. I hope for more money and opportunity to reach the huddled masses without a revolution that could leave everybody worse off. (If someone could answer the question of who would fill the power vacuum I might be persuaded to hope for it.) Maybe the realization that revoltuon is even possible will shake the Party into a realization that two vastly separated nations, Rich China and Poor China, is not a sustainable model, and that it’s time for some serious, intelligent wealth-spreading.

Pass the popcorn and watch the global drama unfold.

Update: I am happy to see that my fellow blogger has put up his own post in Chinese about our email conversation. You can see it here. I truly admire his courage, not to mention his intelligence.


Mormons: “Dangerous Cult”?

I’m inclined to think so.

Living in America’s second largest Mormon stronghold for many years, including two years in a predominantly Mormon office, I was treated to a bird’s eye view of the squarest, looniest cult in America. And I mean loony. They have every right to practice as they please and believe in whatever they choose to. It’s when they decide to meddle in the law and legislate discrimination that my feelings go from distaste (with just a dash of revulsion) to feeling the need to speak out.

It’s now the time to speak out, as those interviewed in the article make clear. And I don’t care how “icky” some may think the idea of gay marriage it. That’s not the issue. The issue is passing a proposition that is a pure, undisguised act of discrimination, wrapped in the canard of “the sanctity of marriage.” If that were so important to these hypocrites, they would have put all that cash behind a proposition banning divorce.

There’s a delicious irony to seeing all this moral indignation over the sanctity of marriage coming from the not-so-long-ago polygamous Mormons, whose sects in my own state still have multiple wives including child-brides.

Update: Good perspective here as well.


China: Calamity or Calm? WaPo vs. NYT

For some background perspective, just yesterday “Dr. Doom” Roubini said China is on the verge of “falling apart.” That’s a pay site, but here is a chunk, thanks to another site:

[T]he risk of a hard landing in China is sharply rising; a deceleration in the Chinese growth rate to 7% in 2009 – just a notch above a 6% hard landing – is highly likely and an even worse outcome cannot be ruled out at this point. The global economy is already headed towards a global recession as advanced economies are all in a recession and the U.S. contraction is now dramatically accelerating. The first engine of global growth – the U.S. on the consumption side – has now already shut down. The second engine of global growth – China on the production side – is also on its way to stalling.

Thus, with the two main engines of global growth now in serious trouble a global hard landing is now almost a certainty. And a hard landing in China will have severe effects on growth in emerging market economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America as Chinese demand for raw materials and intermediate inputs has been a major source of economic growth for emerging markets and commodity exporters. The sharp recent fall in commodity prices and the near collapse of the Baltic Freight index are clear signals that Chinese and global demand for commodities and industrial inputs is sharply falling. Thus, global growth – at market prices – will be close to zero in Q3 of 2008, likely negative in Q4 of 2009 and well into negative territory in 2009. So brace yourself for an ugly and protracted global economic contraction in 2009.

John Pomfret of the Washington Post wholeheartedly agrees with the doomsters (and Roubini’s track record is spectacular, there’s no denying that). He also specifically takes issues with the NYT editorial board for its somewhat rosy belief that China can spend its way – and the world’s – out of a recession.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how China could ride to the rescue of a global recession, using the latent power of 1.3 billion consumers to power global GDP. Who would have thought that we’d be calling on China to save our bacon? Witness a New York Times editorial on Oct. 26 with the remarkable headline: “As China Goes, So Goes….” What the Times called for, and what others have seconded, is for China to unleash domestic demand, ramp up imports, thereby keeping the global economy afloat.

First, before we get into why this probably won’t happen, let’s pause for a second to reflect on just how amazing it is that we’re asking China to prop us up. Yes, yes, China did yeoman’s work during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. But that was a pretty localized mess. What the Times — and others — are asking China to do is not just be a responsible player in its region (which at the time simply meant not devaluing the yuan). No, what the Times and others want China to do is to step forward and in a flash take over the United States’ position as the engine of global growth. That’s a pretty big demand for a country with a per capita GDP that’s in 109th place on the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook Database, squarely between Swaziland and Morocco.

As to whether China will take up the challenge: I think not. China would have to restructure its economy if it wanted to significantly grow its domestic demand. But right now China’s economy is facing real problems.

You have to read Pomfret’s entire post to see why he so strongly agrees with Roubini, and why he believes the crisis will make the CCP only more reactionary (as opposed to enlightened, as the NYT editors optimistically hope). After looking over the dismal situation, he comes back to his central thesis, first discussed here back in 2004, i.e., that as long as China’s pig-headed reactionary government is in charge, they will keep blocking their own path to superpower status and will probably never arrive there.

Unlike Pomfret, I’ve predicted China would have yet another soft landing. I’m willing to consider that I may be wrong, unlikely as that may be. The Roubini-Pomfret scenario is too frightening to imagine. If they are right, we are talking about the possibility of civil war. If there were a true financial collapse in China, either that or anarchy are not inconceivable. China’s situation is so, so tenuous, despite the amazing strides it’s made. That’s why so much here is subsidized and the iron rice bowl is still an important crutch, and why the government is going to be the candyman for the unemployed, either simply handing out money or setting up massive infrastruture projects to keep people employed and, most important, pacified.

Which brings me to my last half-baked point. I was speaking with a friend today who is involved with one of those gigantic Chinese manufacturing companies; this one makes concrete. When I expressed my worry that concrete makers would feel the pinch when overseas orders drop off and Chinese businesses stop expanding and building new structures, he said that scenario is simply wrong. “China is about to pour billions and billions of dollars into infrastructure projects to keep the economy going,” my friend reminded me. “This company is planning on a huge expansion of business.” So again, can China spend and build its way out of this? Stranger things have happened, no?

So many tectonic plates rubbing against one another, so many ways this whole thing can go, not just for China but for the world. For now, perhaps out of willful ignorance, I stick with my prediction: a relatively soft landing for China. Pomfret’s one of my heroes and I’ve agreed with him on just about everything in the past. Same with Roubini. But this time, they both had better be wrong. Otherwise, we are all in a lot more trouble than we ever imagined. It won’t be at all pretty, no matter how much we may dislike the CCP and hope for its demise.


Fun in Taiwan

No time to add brilliant commentary. I just want to say this reminds me of the fen qing throwing eggs at Japanese cars and businesses back in 2005. What a great way to further your cause.

Hundreds of Taiwanese protesters surrounded a hotel Wednesday where a Chinese envoy was attending a dinner banquet, tossing eggs, burning Chinese flags and trapping him inside into the early morning hours.

Chen Yunlin, the highest-ranking Communist Chinese official to ever visit Taiwan, has drawn daily protests since his five-day trip began Monday.

He was able to leave at 2:15 a.m. after police with riot shields and clubs began shoving the protesters away from the front of the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei hotel. Some demonstrators had to be dragged or carried away

The Chinese official came to sign a trade agreement with Taiwan that many believe will greatly ease tensions between the rivals. But many of the protesters distrust Beijing and oppose closer ties with the island’s biggest security threat….

Many of the approximately 800 protesters Wednesday night supported permanent independence, and some chanted ”Communist bandit get out.” They tossed eggs and pounded on cars that tried to leave the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei hotel.

Brave heroes or crazed idiots? Your call.


Why Obama’s Victory Matters

[I just posted this as a comment to the thread below, and then decided it merited a post of its own. Let this be my way of saying goodnight on this great day for America, and the world.]

This is richard, burnt out after a long day. Thanks for all the comments. What we saw today was a tectonic shift, an entire new paradigm (pardon the cliché) of what America is, what it stands for and all that is possible when you give people freedom and democracy. I have a lot more to say, and will try to put up a post tomorrow summarizing all that I believe this election means. Simply put, the notion that America is a wonderful place, unlike any other on the planet in terms of hope and opportunity, has been restored.

I saw the great Chris Patten speak last weekend at the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, and he confessed that despite his reputation as a conservative, he was a proud “Obamamaniac” (he actually used that term). He explained it very simply: “Obama has made American politics respectable again.”

I want that to seep in. Something happened under Bush that we hadn’t seen before, something terrible and ugly. It wasn’t new or unique to Bush; indeed, it was Richard Nixon who first sowed the seeds, but it was under Bush that it blossomed and fully reared its head. And that is the tactic of not just pointing out where you and your enemies disagree, but to question the essence of their character, and to tie them to the most anti-American of forces. Nixon’s smearing of “the pink lady” Helen Gahagan Douglas was the first ominous sign of a whole new type of smear: claiming that your opponent is a Communist; in recent months, it was a terrorist-sympathizer, a sleeper-cell Muslim, a socialist-communist-Marxist. This evil technique lay dormant for some time after Watergate, but it never was abandoned. It relied on a fantasy, a big lie, but it worked wonders. Ronald Reagan’s stories of “welfare queens” (who did not exist) who were living high off the hog thanks to welfare, was an offshoot of this tactic of creating imaginary enemies and tying them to your opponent. Willie Horton was another example, playing on unspoken racist fears and creating an association of the opponent with madman black rapists and murderers.

It was only under Bush and Karl Rove and, inexplicably, the once-honorable McCain that this tactic reached its zenith. Just as with Willie Horton, the GOP spin-monsters created a psychological association between Obama and Muslim terrorists, marxists, vote fraudsters and even white terrorists or yesteryear. Just as with “the pink lady,” this was all nonsense, a total lie, and the Rove machine knew it. No matter; it worked wonders before with the Swift Boat Veterans and, irony of ironies, with the smearing of McCain himself in 2000.

That was a long way of describing why Patten’s words were so stirring. America has finally rejected big-lie smears. The most wonderful thing about this entire election has been that Obama turned the tables on the liars and rumor mongers, not by fighting fire with fire but by simply taking the high road. He never shouted or lost his temper, he never let the inane stories faze him. Instead he stuck to the issues and showed for the first time in years that a politician can speak to the public without invoking bogeymen or scare tactics, that he could communicate with the people at their level, about the real things that matter to them, not straw-man issues and murky allegations. He made politics respectable again. He changed the face of American politics and showed the world we are not a nation of self-deluded automatons who can be swayed to insanity by the snake-oil salesmen. And that leaves American politics in a very different place than it was just a few months ago. We can already feel it – America longs to be a kinder, gentler nation once again, to be respected by the world as a leader and a role model, not as a bully and a torturer.

I am not in America now, of course, but I urge you to see this post to get a feeling for just how palpable America’s joy and relief are. A great burden, an agony, has been lifted. We can breathe again, we can see light and we can have hope. As most of you know, Obama wasn’t my first choice, but I have seen what he can do and I am impressed. A shame that he now has to face the staggering mess Bush leaves in his wake, but I think most of us realize he can’t work miracles. He is not a messiah and no one except the right ever said, sneeringly, that he was. Let’s savor the victory for now, and then brace ourselves for a lot of hard, painful work that will need to be done to complete America’s transformation into a real country again, a country in which we can disagree with others without calling them terrorists or traitors, and in which we face the fact that we are all in this together. “God bless America,” as the somewhat hackneyed and overused expression goes. Somehow tonight, despite its inherent mawkishness, it seems appropriate.


Obama Victory Thread

Mission accomplished.

Update: Looks like Pennsylvania, so key to any hopes McCain may have had for an upset, has gone to Obama. It also looks like we’re going to have our landslide, both in the presidential and congressional races. You can watch the projections of popular and electoral vote tallies for each state here. Excellent site. Looks like it will soon be time to gloat.

Update 2: Apparently Obama has just won Ohio. We can now invoke the L word. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a landslide.

Update 3: Malkin, Rush and their henchmen are going ape-shit over the latest Ashley Judd-style hoax, namely that armed “Black Panthers” are intimidating voters in Philadelphia. The story is nicely debunked here. Listen to the Rush clip. Look at the clip Malkin posted. And the photos she’s posted of menacing black guards. It is pure race baiting, stoking fears of black thugs running the country if Obama wins.

One security guard holding a billy club, and it’s instantly turned into a metaphor for the black police state to come, blasted through the pipes of the wingnutosphere. Just like Ashley Judd, beaten and scarred by an out-of-control, pro-Obama nigro. Fear and racism, the only cards in their pitiful deck.

I’ll keep this up at the top until Obama’s ascension is official. Meanwhile, I can feel a heavy yoke being lifted off of America’s shoulders already. Eight years of madness are coming to an end. (And for anyone who harbors any doubts as to whether it was madness, please go here for an eloquent review of what we’ve been through, penned by a former Bush fanatic apologist admirer.) It’s time. We’re actually there. 20 or so hours.

Talk about anything – but only after you vote for Obama.