Paul Krugman: Broken Promises

Broken Promises
Published: August 28, 2006

Last September President Bush stood in New Orleans, where the lights had just come on for the first time since Katrina struck, and promised ‘one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.’ Then he left, and the lights went out again.

What happened next was a replay of what happened after Mr. Bush asked Congress to allocate $18 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. In the months that followed, congressmen who visited Iraq returned with glowing accounts of all the wonderful things we were doing there, like repainting schools and, um, repainting schools.



Chinese corruption investigator wined and dined to death

[I’m moving this post up to the top – I really think it’s a classic and don’t want it to get buried in the unread weekend posts.]

This really is material for The Onion. The death of such a young man is a tragic thing, so it’s pretty remarkable that the China Daily editors let it go out with such a whimsical opening line.

The nation’s auditors have been told to behave themselves, after one of them ate and drank himself to death after a month-long banquet binge organized by the government bureau he was investigating.

In an official circular to all of its provincial branches, the National Auditors Office admitted yesterday that the incident has “marred the image and influenced the public’s trust” of auditing offices and auditors, who are at the centre of the war against graft and embezzlement.

The national office urged all of its staff to “learn a lesson” after 25-year-old Zhang Hongtao died while inspecting Yanshan County Electricity Bureau in North China’s Hebei Province this April.

Zhang and his colleagues from Yanshan County Audit Office had repeatedly attended banquets organized by the bureau, and after one of them he vomited and died outside a restaurant. The day after Zhang’s death, his team and two officials from the electricity bureau travelled for a sightseeing tour around East China, which was reportedly organized by the audited bureau.

I suspect that whoever wrote this over at China Daily had a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he did so. Judging by the cool wit and style, I’m going to place money that it was written by this guy. The irony is just subtle enough to go over the heads of the chief editors. Don’t believe me? Look at what he writes later on:

Zhang’s associates and officials from the electricity bureau left for Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province just after his death. Zhang’s colleagues said most of them were too upset over the death to stay in the office, so they went to Yangzhou to relax.

Go ahead and tell me the writer isn’t being mischievous. (And I love it.) Of course, the story ends with the obligatory BS about how auditors will “learn an important lesson” from this sad story, and that all in all they’ve been doing a sublime job in curbing corruption blah blah blah. (It’s still China Daily, what do you expect?)

On a more serious note, this doesn’t strengthen my confidence in Hu’s campaign to stamp out corruption – not when it’s so easy to corrupt the investigators themselves.


Frank Rich: Bush Returns to the Crime Scene (Katrina)

Required reading.

Return to the Scene of the Crime
Published: August 27, 2006

PRESIDENT BUSH travels to the Gulf Coast this week, ostensibly to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone knows his real mission: to try to make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency. As they used to say in the French Quarter, bonne chance! The ineptitude bared by the storm – no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin – is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush’s ‘heckuva job’ shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration’s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.



Republicans say the darndest things

Can you believe this?

Rep. Katherine Harris said this week that God did not intend for the United States to be a “nation of secular laws” and that a failure to elect Christians to political office will allow lawmaking bodies to “legislate sin.”

The remarks, published in the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, unleashed a torrent of criticism from political and religious officials.

Of course I believe it – it’s Katherine Harris, after all, the witch who did more to help Junior steal the 2000 election than anyone else, along with James Baker. It’s been interesting, watching her complete and dizzying fall from grace in recent months,. I have to admit, there’s very little schaden to my freude.

Update: For the record, some democrats are just as bad. This was literally unfathomable.


Another fine review…

of John Pomfret’s Chinese Lessons. Sample:

…China has gone from being one of the most egalitarian societies in the world to among the least. It is a rapidly aging country stricken by widespread and devastating environmental degradation, and the government’s first response to epidemics, poisoned water supplies and natural disasters is usually to try to cover up the debacle. Pomfret’s sketches of self-serving Chinese officials, bureaucrats and businesspeople will be depressingly familiar to anyone who has worked in China. (Though this was the first time I had read of some Chinese executives’ penchant for spending weekends smoking methamphetamine, popping Viagra and bedding prostitutes.) And Pomfret’s portraits of contemporary Chinese who enter adulthood with a naive optimism that is soon replaced by heartbreaking cynicism will be maddening to readers who are rooting for China to become a responsible world power. Yet to his great credit, Pomfret’s affection for the people he is writing about almost always shows through, which keeps Chinese Lessons from feeling like a polemic; the book’s accumulation of acutely observed detail is compelling.

My own review is here If you haven’t bought the book yet, do it now.


Lieberman goes from bad to worse

This is inexcusable. I used to truly respect the man. Now there’s nothing left to respect. He’s confirmed all our worst fears. I can’t imagine this sitting well with the Democrats who voted him into office again and again.


Maureen Dowd: Junior Needs a Spanking

She’s good today.

Junior Needs a Spanking
Published: August 26, 2006

The Old King put the Boy King over his knee yesterday and gave him a good thwack with a lobster-shaped paddle.

O.K., that didn’t happen, but don’t you wish it had?

Junior certainly deserves it, with recent attempts to blame his dad for policies that led to 9/11 and the rise of Osama and Middle East terrorism.



Review of English edition of Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha (Will The Boat Sink The Water?)


A book that we talked about at great length here in the past, Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha has been translated into English, with an introduction by John Pomfret. This book was a classic example of the Hu administration’s Hamlet complex. At first they encouraged the book and then, once it caught on, they banned it (not that the ban meant much; I hear it’s still available in the mainland if you look for it). It was heralded as a true breakthrough, a hard-nosed look at corruption and the outrageous burdens imposed by local officials on China’s 900 million rural poor.

I’ve just seen the first review of the English edition; here’s how it starts.

Water holds up the boat; water may also sink the boat = Emperor Taizong (600-649 C.E., Tang Dynasty)

If you believe the mainstream media – and why should you be so foolish as to do that? – China will soon overtake the U.S. as a major military and economic super power. Just look at the gleaming cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, they tell us. Take a look at your local Wal-Mart: Just about everything there is made in China.

Chinese journalists Wu Chuntao and Chen Guidi returned to Chen’s native province of Anhui, one of China’s poorest – and the setting for ‘The Good Earth’ by West Virginia native Pearl Buck – to undertake a three-year survey of what had happened to the peasants there, asking the question: ‘Have the peasants been betrayed by the revolution undertaken in their name by Mao and his successors?’

The short answer is ‘YES’ and the reportage in ‘Will the Boat Sink the Water? The Life of China’s Peasants’ (PublicAffairs, 256 pages, $25.00). Translated by Zhu Hong, with an introduction by former Washington Post Beijing Bureau Chief John Pomfret, the book is a masterpiece of investigative journalism. It’s as if Seymour Hersh’s wife were an investigative journalist as accomplished as Sy and accompanied her husband on their collaborative work.

Then come all the details, none of them very cheerful. Read the review, and then tell me how people can continue to laud the cadre system, a bloated, corrupt, foul creation that rewards freeloaders, failures and liars at the expense of the miserable poor the party was created to protect. Irony of ironies.

On another note, but one still related to this review… A common complaint you’ll hear from the fenqing crowd is that the Western media only portrays the PRC in negative light. This is a colossal misrepresentation that can be obliterated with a simple search of any major news portals. On any given day, there will be a sizable imbalance of glowing economic and finance/trade-related stories, and a couple of stories of human rights issues. Anyone scanning these stories will see China as a wonderland and as the place to be. Most of the coverage is positive in the extreme. I only bring this up in this post because of the opening words of the review, cited above, on how the mainstream media have created a glowing picture of a China that for most Chinese doesn’t exist. The reviewer tells us,

As Pomfret says, the book is ‘an important antidote to the boosterish pablum churned out by many China experts these days. It’s a street-level look at the downside, and the dark side, of China’s economic juggernaut.’

Boosterish pabulum. Pomfret is spot-on as always. (And if you are new to this blog, I urge you to check that last link.)


Chinese exercise video

Most amusing.

Via Andrew Sullivan’s guest blogger, who blithely remarks, “So that’s how they maintain the one-child policy….”


Farewell, Friendship Store!

A blogger who first shopped at the Beijing institution a quarter of a century ago reminisces about the store, which will soon be meeting the wrecking ball. A charming and bittersweet first-person recollection of the way things used to be.