Turkey Day Open Thread

Okay, so Firedoglake and Dependable Renegade already have this up. But I’m feeling the holiday spirit…

So what’s on your plate?


Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink…..


I cringe when I think about Harbin and the 50-mile lethal slick of benzene drifting toward the Russian border. The famous environmental carelessness that has been the hallmark of China’s economic boom had to catch up with the government sometime, and I’d guess this is just a sign of more catastrophes to come. It’s all about corruption, as usual. And it’s always the little people on the ground who have to bear the misery brought on by the greedy businessmen and corrupt local officials. I suspect the CCP wil come down on them hard and in a very public way.

I’m still on vacation and won’t be back to blogging fulltime until the weekend. I’ll have a lot of catching up to do. To those angrily awaiting my response to their emails, please be forebearing.


News from Harbin

AP has an update:

The 50-mile-long patch of water carrying toxic benzene began entering Harbin, a city of 3.8 million people in China’s northeast, before dawn, the government said. It was expected to take 40 hours to pass.

“After it passes … we will have to make efforts to disinfect the water,” Shi Zhongxin, director of the city’s water bureau, said on state television. He gave no details…

…The city government announced it was digging 100 new wells.

On Thursday, thousands of one-liter bottles of drinking water stood in huge stacks outside wholesale shops. Families bought them by the dozen to take home by bicycle, while sidewalk vendors pushed carts straining under hundreds of bottles…

…China’s central government confirmed for the first time Wednesday that the shutdown was a result of a “major water pollution incident.” Local officials earlier disclosed the reason, but officials in Beijing had refused to comment…

…The explosion, which forced the evacuation of 10,000 people, was blamed on human error in a facility processing benzene, which is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents and pesticides. Short-term exposure can cause drowsiness, dizziness and unconsciousness.

A top official with China’s environmental watchdog said Thursday the company overseeing the plant should be held responsible — state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., which is the country’s largest oil company.

“We will be very clear about who’s responsible. It is the chemical plant of the CNPC in Jilin province,” Zhang Lijun, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said at a news conference.

Zhang did not give any more details but said investigators were looking into criminal responsibility.

He also had no details on what authorities would do to protect against long-term damage to the river and surrounding soil.

In neighboring Russia, news reports said concern was growing in the border city of Khabarovsk, about 435 miles downriver from Harbin.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said officials briefed the Russian Embassy twice this week and both sides have agreed to share information….

…Zhang said China did no wrong in waiting until this week to tell Russia about the effects of the Nov. 13 accident. “There are different levels of reporting,” he said, explaining that local officials along the river were told first.

“It will be another 14 days before the toxins reach the Heilongjiang River” which flows into Russia, “so we don’t think we were late in providing information,” he said.

But, an official in Khabarovsk told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency that not enough was known about the accident on the Songhua River — known in Russian as the Sungari.

“Unfortunately, the Chinese side has so far not released full information about the chemicals in the Sungari and their amount,” Ivan Sych, head of the Khabarovsk regional department for civil defense and emergency situations, was quoted as saying…

…With its huge population, China ranks among countries with the smallest water supplies per person. Hundreds of cities regularly suffer shortages of water for drinking or industry. Protests have erupted in rural areas throughout China over complaints that pollution is ruining water supplies and damaging crops.

The Financial Times account is grim:

Thousands of residents of Harbin last night jammed its railway station while others booked all available flights as a deadly 80km toxic slick made its way down the Songhua river, threatening to poison the north-eastern Chinese city’s water supplies.

The slick of benzene and other toxins was leaked into the river, the city’s main source of water, after a series of explosions 10 days ago at a chemicals factory 200km upriver.

A mood of distrust and paranoia was spreading through the industrial city of 9m people, sharpened by the local government’s decision to turn off water supplies for four days for fear of an environmental catastrophe.

Trains leaving the city are fully booked until the weekend. All 42 flights from the city’s airport were also full yesterday.

The Guardian adds:

While the true extent of the risk to human health remains unclear, the public’s sense of unease has been heightened by mixed signals coming from the authorities, who have taken more than a week to raise the alarm…

…The state environmental protection agency said it had started monitoring water safety levels within three hours of the explosion at the plant, yet its report – that 108 times the safe level of benzene seeped into the river – only became public knowledge yesterday…

…in China, questions about the environmental disaster are spreading beyond Harbin. According to the Xinhua news agency, the provincial government is so concerned that it has warned city residents to stay away from the river to avoid possible exposure to airborne toxins.

Upstream, there have been reports that many fish have died and, contrary to earlier denials, it appears that at least two cities, Songhua and Jilin, have shut down water supplies because of health fears.

I’m running out the door and have no real time to comment here. But for me, this has echoes of another disaster from a few decades ago. That too took place in a state that zealously tried to control the flow of information, and the fall-out from the government’s handling of it helped trigger major changes in that government.

Remember Chernobyl?

I’ve said before that perhaps a grassroots environmental movement has the potential to be a dem0cr@tizing force in China. Pollution affects everyone, rich and poor, and in addition there are many in the government who recognize the severity of China’s problem and are pushing for concrete actions to address it (check out this interview with Minister Pan Yue). A balance with nature is an essential aspect of traditional Chinese culture as well – something that even Mao and the rush to modernization has not completely destroyed.

China’s officials claim they will share information on a timely basis. I imagine Harbin’s residents will be very interested to see if they do – particuarly their plans to ensure the future safety of the water supply.

UPDATE And the criticism is rolling in:

Environmentalists criticized the government for failing to take action and inform the public sooner.

“Careful environmental evaluation should have been made to avoid building dangerous factories near residential areas and water sources in the first place,” said Xue Ye, general secretary of the Chinese group Friends of Nature.

“The local government should have predicted the possible pollution, but they didn’t. It makes us wonder whether the plan was made for real use or just for showing off.”…

…Reporters from China’s usually docile state press peppered Zhang with questions, asking repeatedly why the government waited so long to disclose the scale of the threat faced by Harbin and other communities.

Zhang replied, “We did report it right away. There are different levels of reporting.”

A reporter from China Central Television, noting that China has suffered a string of fatal industrial accidents recently, asked whether the government would be setting up a new emergency-response mechanism.

Zhang said the government already had such a mechanism and that it functioned as planned.


“US would lose in a war against China”

Now this is an unsual article, from the conservative Washington Times’ sister magazine.

The overwhelming assessment by Asian officials, diplomats and analysts is that the U.S. military simply cannot defeat China. It has been an assessment relayed to U.S. government officials over the past few months by countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. This comes as President Bush wraps up a visit to Asia, in which he sought to strengthen U.S. ties with key allies in the region.

Most Asian officials have expressed their views privately. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has gone public, warning that the United States would lose any war with China.

“In any case, if tension between the United States and China heightens, if each side pulls the trigger, though it may not be stretched to nuclear weapons, and the wider hostilities expand, I believe America cannot win as it has a civic society that must adhere to the value of respecting lives,” Mr. Ishihara said in an address to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Ishihara said U.S. ground forces, with the exception of the Marines, are “extremely incompetent” and would be unable to stem a Chinese conventional attack. Indeed, he asserted that China would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against Asian and American cities—even at the risk of a massive U.S. retaliation.

The governor said the U.S. military could not counter a wave of millions of Chinese soldiers prepared to die in any onslaught against U.S. forces. After 2,000 casualties, he said, the U.S. military would be forced to withdraw.

“Therefore, we need to consider other means to counter China,” he said. “The step we should be taking against China, I believe, is economic containment.”

My first guess is that this is a “scare article” intended to shake us up into thinking that if we leave Iraq, it proves to our allies and enemies alike that we are incompetent cowards afraid of incurring any casualties. Of course, that’s not true, and my gut instinct is to see this entire piece as BS. There would be no talk of pulling out of Iraq if the majority of Americans believed we have a clear mission with attainable goals, and that those 2,000+ Americans died for something worthwhile. Americans aren’t cowards who run away; they just want to know what they’re dying for. In the face of a true threat, like Al Qaeda, the nation rallies and fights.

I may be totally wrong about this, and the article may be spot-on. The governor may be a qualified spokesman for other Asian countries. Still, I find it on the bizarre side. In a conventional war, America would be pretty hard to beat, even though being bogged down in Iraq doesn’t help us any.


Corruption and Concubines

The Los Angeles Times reports that “second wives” have made a comeback in China – and that where “golden canaries” flock, corruption is sure to follow:

China’s economic boom has led to a revival of the 2-millennium-old tradition of “golden canaries,” so called because, like the showcase birds, mistresses here are often pampered, housed in love nests and taken out at the pleasure of their “masters.”

Concubines were status symbols in imperial China. After the Communists took power, they sought to root out such bourgeois evils, even as Chairman Mao Tse-tung reportedly kept a harem of peasant women into his old age.

Now, mistresses have become a must-have for party officials, bureaucrats and businessmen.

“We are in a commodity economy,” says retired Shanghai University sociologist Liu Dalin. “Work, technology, love, beauty, power — it’s all tradable.”

So-called concubine villages — places where lotharios keep “second wives” in comfort and seclusion — are now spread across the nation, in booming cities such as Dongguan, Chengdu and Shanghai.

The mistress boom is contributing to a surge in divorces — and fierce battles over property when relationships collapse. Not long ago, Beijing amended the country’s marriage law to make men who indulge in mistresses pay heavy penalties and to give their spouses greater rights in separations.

Now, local governments are starting to take action.

This year the city of Nanjing issued an order for all public officials to register their extramarital relationships. In Guangzhou, a prosperous city in the south, a major university issued stern warnings to female students about having affairs and wrecking marriages. And last month, state media reported that Hainan province had stipulated that party members who kept mistresses or had children outside of marriage would be expelled.

Government leaders worry that philandering also could have detrimental effects on China’s economy and the credibility of the Communist Party.

State-run banks and agencies have lost billions of dollars to embezzlement and fraud, many at the hands of officials seeking money to support their golden canaries. In a government review of 102 corruption cases in several Guangdong province cities a few years ago, every one involved an illicit affair.

“If a government official has a mistress, there must be some corruption,” says Sun Youjun, a private investigator in Shanghai. “Visits to high-end hotels are not easy with officials’ incomes.”

And apparently, “second wives” rather understates many of these cases:

Li Xin knelt in a hotel room here, wearing polka-dot boxer shorts and a grimace on his face.

The deputy mayor of Jining, in Shandong province, was pleading with his lover not to report him to authorities.

But in the end, the 51-year-old official was exposed and sentenced to life in prison. His crime: accepting more than $500,000 in bribes, which he used to support at least four mistresses in Jining, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Li’s transgressions were minor compared with those of other public officials. A top prosecutor in Henan province, for example, was recently stripped of his post and Communist Party membership after investigators alleged that he embezzled $2 million to support his lavish lifestyle — and seven mistresses.


H@rb1n Update

I’m at work, so I don’t have any time for commentary on this. But here is an update on the H@rb1n situation:

HARBIN, China (AFP) – A chemical plant explosion has severely polluted one of China’s biggest rivers, causing water supplies to be cut for millions of people and sparking pollution fears in neighbouring Russia.

The explosion at a PetroChina factory in the northeastern province of Jilin led to an outpouring of the carcinogen benzene into the 1,897-kilometer-long (1,176-mile) Songhua river, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said Wednesday.

“After the blast at the chemical plant the monitoring station in Jilin found that benzene went into the river and polluted the water,” the EPA said in a statement on its website.

“Benzene levels were 108 times above national safety levels.”

The announcement came 10 days after the November 13 explosion and followed repeated denials from government officials that there had been any major environmental impact.

In Harbin, the capital of neighbouring Heilongjiang province about 380 kilometers downstream from the blast site, water supplies were cut off at midnight on Tuesday over the pollution fears, the local government said.

The Songhua is the main source of drinking water for more than three million urban residents of Harbin, which has a total population of about nine million and is one of China’s biggest cities.

The EPA said the pollutants in the water were expected to hit Harbin around 5:00 am on Thursday, although the contaminants would be diluted.

Xinhua news agency quoted government sources as saying that Harbin needs 1,400 tons of active carbon to purify the contaminated water in the Songhua but is currently 700 tons short.

The polluting material index had dropped to 29 times above national safety levels when the contaminants reached the border of Jilin and Heilongjiang on Sunday, the EPA said.

However the polluted water flowed past Songyuan and Zhaoyuan, two big cities between the blast site and Harbin that lie along the Songhua, before the government admitted the contamination.

Songyuan has a population of just under three million and Zhaoyuan has about 450,000 residents. An official from Songyuan city government told AFP on Wednesday that its water supplies had not been cut over the past 10 days.

I don’t know how sensitive this topic is, so please let me know if I need to do additional ed1t1ng…


Dusk falls on Beijing

An open thread – let’s keep it 100 percent abortion- and religion-free, okay?


New Communist China News Aggregator

Who would have thought that ueber-neocons Chucky Johnson and the man in the funny hat Roger Simon would bring us such a precious gift? From the site of Open Pajamas Media (aka Open Sores Media, aka Open Sewers Media, and sorry, I forget the URL):

Read the whole story over at Chucky’s favorite site.

Chairman Simon, OSM’s Great Helmsman

Update: I see Michael Turton beat me to this one.


Twilight of the Republicans

It sounds like the Republicans’ woes are just getting started. For all of America’s flaws and warts and sins, it’s good to know that justice can still be blind, and that no one is above the law.

The Justice Department has signaled for the first time in recent weeks that prominent members of Congress could be swept up in the corruption investigation of Jack Abramoff, the former Republican superlobbyist who diverted some of his tens of millions of dollars in fees to provide lavish travel, meals and campaign contributions to the lawmakers whose help he needed most.

The investigation by a federal grand jury, which began more than a year ago, has created alarm on Capitol Hill, especially with the announcement Friday of criminal charges against Michael Scanlon, Mr. Abramoff’s former lobbying partner and a former top House aide to Representative Tom DeLay.
Mr. Abramoff, who is under indictment in a separate bank-fraud case in Florida, has not been charged by the federal grand jury here. But Mr. Scanlon’s lawyer says he has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation, suggesting that Mr. Abramoff’s day in court in Washington is only a matter of time.

Scholars who specialize in the history and operations of Congress say that given the brazenness of Mr. Abramoff’s lobbying efforts, as measured by the huge fees he charged clients and the extravagant gifts he showered on friends on Capitol Hill, almost all of them Republicans, the investigation could end up costing several lawmakers their careers, if not their freedom.

The investigation threatens to ensnarl many outside Congress as well, including Interior Department officials and others in the Bush administration who were courted by Mr. Abramoff on behalf of the Indian tribe casinos that were his most lucrative clients.

The inquiry has already reached into the White House; a White House budget official, David H. Safavian, resigned only days before his arrest in September on charges of lying to investigators about his business ties to Mr. Abramoff, a former lobbying partner.

I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century,” said Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional specialist at the Brookings Institution. “I’ve been around Washington for 35 years, watching Congress, and I’ve never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress.”

Cynicism and chutzpah. That just about sums up the Age of Bush. It’ll be fun watching these shameless criminals get their comeuppance, but the price they’ve extracted from America over the past five years is surely nothing to laugh about: a bankrupted government, the fucking of the middle class, and the most unworthy companies getting all the breaks at the expense of those who follow honest business ethics. Let the cards fall where they may.


It’s the shrine, stupid!

The US is getting annoyed at Japan’s intransigence when it comes to that place.

A top U.S. diplomat voiced frustration with Japan’s strained relationship with its Asian neighbours, saying Tokyo’s spats over history with China and South Korea could undercut American interests in Asia.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s appearance at the Asia-Pacific Economic (APEC) forum was clouded by the historical animosity he rekindled with his repeated visits to a shrine for war dead where convicted war criminals are also honored.

Christopher Hill, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, told university students from APEC countries on Saturday that the chill between American ally Japan and its neighbours had gone on long enough.

“We want Japan to have a good relationship with China,” he said. “And it’s a little frustrating to us, to the U.S., how bad the relationship has become between Japan and China over these historical issues.”

Hill said that while the United States has a deepening relationship with Japan, Tokyo’s strained relationship with its neighbours could spell trouble for Washington as well.

“It doesn’t help us that when we have relations with Japan, people think, ‘aha, that’s an anti-Chinese move’,” he added. “That’s not in our interest.

“So we would like to see that situation between Japan and China, and Japan and Korea, calm down.”

In unusually blunt words, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told Koizumi during a meeting on Friday on the sidelines of APEC that Seoul was not interested in more apologies, but wanted to see visits to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni shrine cease.

China rebuffed Japanese overtures for a bilateral summit during APEC and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing compared Koizumi’s Yasukuni homages to a German leader’s paying tribute to the Nazis.

This is one of those festering wounds, like Palestinians and Israel, Al Qaeda and non-Moslems, pro-lifers and pro-choicers – the differences seem so irreconcilable, there’s absolutely no sense of hope. The solution can only come when there is one of those “magical moments” in history we occasionally witness (the end of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall) when minds open and a true breakthrough occurs. But considering how entrenched the two parties are in their respective positions, I can’t be too optimistic.

I keep hoping Koizumi will have a come-to-Jesus moment when he realizes just how bad a mistake his vists are. Maybe this pressure from America will help expedite his long-awaited epiphany…?